February 1999 Bulletin

Academy reemphasizes, strengthens policy on sexual harassment

By Richard N. Peterson, General Counsel

At its meeting in December 1998, the Academy Board of Directors adopted an enhanced sexual harassment policy for the Academy staff and all individuals working on the Academy's behalf.

According to Academy President James D. Heckman, MD, "The Academy has not and will not tolerate the sexual harassment of any Academy employee or volunteer under any circumstances. The reemphasis on and strengthening of this policy is timely and in the best interest of our organization and its valued employees."

Dr. Heckman stressed that the adoption and reemphasis of this policy was not based on any particular identified problem at the Academy, but rather on heightened cultural sensitivities to this issue, as well as the changing litigation environment. As was reported in the December 1998 Bulletin, the filing of cases alleging sexual harassment has increased exponentially in recent years. Several recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions put all employers, including the Academy (and physician employers), at increased risk of sexual harassment lawsuits. Fortunately, the cases also provide certain elements that, if rigorously followed, will help avoid liability in a sexual harassment lawsuit. The Academy's policy (following this article) meets the requirements of these cases.

Each member of the Academy staff has received a copy of the Academy's Policy on Sexual Harassment and has attended an orientation session regarding the policy conducted by the Academy's office of general counsel and department of human resources. Employees posed a number of thoughtful questions, which were addressed during these sessions. While noting that the Policy on Sexual Harassment may change over time in response to societal and Academy needs, the Academy has stressed the high importance it attaches to adherence to the sexual harrassment policy. The Academy also has trained a select group of upper level managers to investigate complaints of sexual harassment promptly, thoroughly, fairly and with as much confidentiality as possible.

The Academy's Policy on Sexual Harassment applies not only to relationships among employees in the Academy itself, but also to staff interactions with orthopaedic surgeon volunteers. The policy expressly states that the "Academy will not tolerate the sexual harassment of any employee by an employee or any nonemployee," including orthopaedic surgeons.

Orthopaedic surgeons are strongly encouraged to review the Academy's Policy on Sexual Harassment, understand its meaning and adhere to it, and consider adopting a similar policy in their own offices.

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