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Healthcare Facilities EPLI: The Risk of Harassment by Non-Employees

Posted on: August 27, 2015 by Caitlin Morgan

Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) for healthcare facilities is designed to provide broad protection for the wide spectrum of employment allegations facing organizations operating in today’s employment environment. This includes allegations of workplace discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination and other workplace-related issues. Policies vary and can be customized to cover employees including any full-time, part-time, seasonal and temporary employees, volunteers and leased employees where indemnified by the company as well as any director, trustee, governor, officer, employee or general partner of the company. Some insurers also offer policies that provide third-party coverage relating to discrimination or sexual harassment. This is particularly important for healthcare facilities where employees, including nurses and therapists, are in regular, physical contact with non-employees – primarily the patients and residents for whom they care (and the family members of those individuals).

Case in point: A Virginia-based private healthcare facility settled a case for $30,000 with a female employee who complained that a resident had been sexually harassing her. She had reported the harassment to her supervisor who failed to address and correct the situation.

Sexual harassment is a difficult issue in any employment setting, but it can be particularly problematic in the resident care arena. Under Title VII, employees of healthcare facilities are protected from harassment by residents or patients just as they are from co-workers and supervisors. Hospitals, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and other patient-care entities are responsible for providing a workplace free of sexual harassment, regardless of whether the harassment is perpetrated by a coworker or by a paying customer.

Moreover, many nursing home employers have experienced episodes where a resident acts out in an inappropriate manner. Often, the inappropriate behavior is due to the resident having a deteriorated mental condition, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. As a result of this condition, residents may not understand that their actions are inappropriate, but this doesn’t necessarily shield nursing home employers from liability.

It’s important to have a risk-mitigation plan to stem these types of losses, including maintaining a written policy that specifies clearly how employees can report a harassment issue when it occurs. Employees and supervisor training on dealing with sexual harassment issues is also critical. Because the duties of a healthcare employee often require close, physical contact with patients and residents, some with diminished mental capacities, there is an increased potential for misunderstandings or unwelcome incidents. If employees are trained to react properly and promptly, the unwelcome conduct may be stopped before it becomes problematic. Also, complaints must be investigated immediately and thoroughly with corrective action taken to mitigate the problem. Assign another employee to care for the resident or at least discuss with the employee whether he or she wants to transfer to another part of the facility, for example. Other options include making staffing adjustments such that the employee never cares for the resident alone. Also, speak with resident’s family about the situation.

We specialize in providing insurance protection for healthcare facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Talk to the specialists at Caitlin Morgan about EPLI insurance and other coverages need to respond to the various exposures these facilities face. Call us at 877.226.1027.

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Posted in: blog Employment Practices Liability Insurance