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A Pharmacy Primer on Workplace Sexual Harassment

June 2, 2020

Inside: How to protect your employees and your pharmacy from workplace sexual harassment. 

Workplace sexual harassment is a topic that most people would rather not think about. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, and you hope that you never have to deal with it.

But as a business owner, you want to have policies and steps in place to make sure your employees, and your business, are protected. Here’s what you need to know about workplace sexual harassment and steps you can take to prevent it.

Sexual Harassment and the Law 

Sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination, which is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII is a federal law to protect individuals from employment discrimination based on their sex. If employers are found to have violated the law, they can be sued in federal court by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment, and both men and women can be perpetrators.

Even if you personally treat all of your employees with respect, you still need to worry about sexual harassment in the workplace. Under the law, employers can be liable for compensatory and punitive damages if their employees are sexually harassed in the workplace.

Title VII only applies to businesses with more than 15 employees, but even if you have fewer employees, you should still work to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. When employees feel happy and safe, they are able to perform their jobs with more efficiency and success.

What Sexual Harassment Looks Like 

Workplace sexual harassment covers a broad spectrum of behaviors ranging from unwelcome sexual comments to workplace violence. It’s typically broken down into two categories: quid pro quo or a hostile work environment.

Quid pro quo

Quid pro quo sexual harassment claims are when employment is conditional upon someone’s willingness to put up with sexual harassment, including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other inappropriate sexual behavior.

A victim of this kind of harassment may feel like they can’t speak up because their company will withhold promotions, give them undesirable assignments, or even fire them. Sometimes, quid pro quo is explicit. Other times, the threat is implied.

Sometimes, there’s no threat at all, but employment decisions are made not based on the quality of the employee’s work, but on their reaction to being sexually harassed in the workplace.

Hostile work environment

Victims make hostile work environment claims when sexual harassment creates an intimidating or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment is considered hostile when its purpose or effect is to interfere with the victim’s work. According to Workplace Fairness, the following factors are used by the courts to determine whether someone is experiencing a hostile work environment:


While isolated incidences of harassment are unpleasant, they don’t necessarily make a work environment “hostile” in the eyes of the law. Usually, there needs to be proof that offensive conduct is happening as a pattern, although severe incidences (especially when physical) can be pursued after one occurrence.

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Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

For the sake of employee morale, and to reduce your risk of a lawsuit, it’s in your best interest to stop sexual harassment before it begins. Letting harassment slip through the cracks can chip away at the foundation of your pharmacy through poor productivity and a bad community reputation. Take these steps to nip any bad behavior in the bud.

Clear sexual harassment policies

Use your employee handbook to clearly spell out your position on sexual harassment.

Lay out the behaviors that are considered sexual harassment, how employees can recognize it, and what they should do to report it. Emphasize that you take sexual harassment seriously and that there will be consequences for people who violate workplace policy.

The same information should be presented to every employee, whether they are a front-end clerk or a pharmacy manager. By being clear about your position from the get-go, offenders don’t have room to claim they didn’t realize a certain behavior would be considered harassment.

Conduct educational training

Reinforce your company policies by conducting sexual harassment training with your employees. A few states actually require that all employees receive harassment training, and even if it’s not required by law, it’s a good idea. If you use HR software, they may provide a course that you can use in your pharmacy.

Incorporate sexual harassment training into your onboarding process to make sure they are on the same page with current employees. After that, have employees participate in an annual refresher course. Recurring training can reduce your liability if an employee commits sexual harassment in the future because it shows you were taking steps to prevent it.

Respond swiftly to complaints

While you never want that day to come, if an employee comes to you with a report of sexual harassment, take immediate action. If you have a staff member that handles HR, they should be involved in the process as well.

Investigate the claim by talking with those involved and take notes along the way so that you can prove you are taking the claim seriously. After the investigation, you’ll determine what steps you need to take to protect the victim and prevent retaliation. This could mean anything from telling the perpetrator to modify their behavior to termination of employment.

The more thorough your investigation is, the less likely you are to end up in court.


An Independently Owned Organization Serving Independent Pharmacies 

PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is a member-owned organization that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.

An HDA member, PBA Health operates its own NABP-accredited (formerly VAWD) warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.

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