Employer policies to prevent sexual abuse

This section of the toolkit is intended to inform organizations of policy development to help prevent, detect and address sexual abuse of patients by nurses. This section is not intended to provide legal advice and cannot be relied on for that purpose. Organizations may consider seeking advice from a lawyer to ensure their policies and/or procedures are appropriate for their circumstances and comply with all applicable laws and professional standards.

How Can Employer Policies Prevent Sexual Abuse of Patients? 

Employer policies set the parameters of professional behaviour in the workplace. Clear policies and procedures let employees know:

  • how they, and others, are expected to act in the workplace
  • their rights and responsibilities
  • how to recognize inappropriate conduct
  • what to do if someone in the workplace behaves unprofessionally.

Tailor Your Policies to Your Organization's Needs  

Every organization’s policies must reflect the uniqueness of their practice environment and address the patients needs. Applying evidence, and consulting with stakeholders and experts can assist with the development of appropriate policies and procedures preventing and addressing sexual abuse. 

What Should a Sexual Abuse Policy Include? 

Employers should have a policy on patient sexual abuse. At a minimum, this policy should include:

  • a statement of the organization's zero tolerance for sexual abuse of patients 
  • an organizational commitment to the eradication of sexual abuse of patients
    • encouraging staff to bring issues forward when they have a concern
  • a clear explanation of appropriate professional boundaries
  • a clear definition of what constitutes sexual abuse (under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991)
    • impact on victims
    • concrete examples of sexual abuse
    • warnings signs (for example, behaviours that can precede sexual abuse)
  • contextual information about the problem of sexual abuse of patients by health professionals
    • prevalence of sexual abuse
  • steps to ensure patient safety if information regarding sexual abuse comes to an employee's attention
  • a specific explanation of employees' reporting duties with respect to sexual abuse, including:
    • what to report
    • when to report
    • who to report to (for example, management, regulatory college, child protection services)
    • how to report
  • the consequences and/or penalties for employees who sexually abuse patients
  • a strategy for prevention of sexual abuse, including ongoing training and education for employees
    • the importance of self-care 

Connect Your Organization's Policies 

When developing policies to help prevent, detect, and address sexual abuse, you may find it helpful to cross-reference or link to other relevant policies, including those that support (a culture of) patient safety. For example policies about hiring, supervision/monitoring of staff, workplace violence and harassment, or social media use, all may incorporate   the standards and expectations for behaviour in the workplace.

Monitor and Review Your Organization's Policies Regularly 

If possible, employers should monitor the impact of their policies and procedures, which could include data collection, and/or feedback from employees.

Organizational policies and procedures should be reviewed and modified on a regular basis to reflect the current state of the law, best practices, changes in the organization, employee feedback, and any information collected through monitoring.




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Page last reviewed March 02, 2020