‘No place for sexism, sexual harassment or violence.’

Unprofessional conduct may result in regulatory action including suspension, conditions on registration or worse, warns regulator

AJP was recently made aware that a link to this article in the AJP Daily newsletter was incorrect. As a result we have decided to re-run the article in a subsequent newsletter.

Ahpra and the National Boards have published a position statement outlining their expectations of “respectful, professional behaviour” from all health practitioners including pharmacists.

This includes maintaining appropriate professional boundaries, with these expectations set out in National Board codes of conduct or their equivalent.

“Practitioners must always treat patients, consumers, students, employees and colleagues with respect,” said Ahpra in its position statement.

“They must always communicate professionally and respectfully with and about others, including when using social media.

“There is no place for sexism, sexual harassment or gendered violence in healthcare. Ahpra and National Boards explicitly condemn this behaviour by registered health practitioners.”

The best place to speak up and raise your concerns will depend on the nature of the concerns, the agency stated.

Concerns about disrespectful behaviour can often be handled locally, including raising concerns directly and as soon as practicable with the practitioner or with the practitioners’ employer when applicable and appropriate, it said.

“As the health practitioner regulator, we deal with concerns about unprofessional conduct. This includes sexual harassment, which is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated,” said Ahpra.

“Comments about someone’s gender expression or appearance, unwelcome touching and suggestive comments or jokes can all be sexual harassment.

“Sexual harassment by registered health practitioners directly contravenes National Board codes of conduct. Ahpra and National Boards explicitly condemn this behaviour by registered health practitioners and encourage reporting to us about it.”

Unprofessional conduct may result in regulatory action including suspending registration or imposing a condition on registration, to protect the public, said Ahpra.

However some unprofessional conduct may involve criminal behaviour, such as sexual assault, and should be considered by police in the first instance.

“Sexual harassment is never acceptable in the workplace (or anywhere). PSS understands that people experiencing sexual harassment may feel powerless, particularly if they are being groomed by the perpetrator,” said Kay Dunkley, Executive Officer of the PSS.

“The risk is especially high for interns and students who may be reluctant to complain as they ‘need their job’ for both financial reasons and to complete the hours needed for registration.

“We encourage anyone experiencing sexual harassment to ask the perpetrator to stop the behaviour, for example: ‘I do not like to be touched like that please stop’ or ‘I find those comments (or that joke) offensive please stop’.

“In addition, keep records of the behaviour and when it occurred. If the behaviour continues then it is important to speak to someone about it. This could be a trusted friend or a colleague in the first instance, or PSS. It is also helpful to find out if it is happening to others in the same workplace.

“Then take the matter to a higher authority such as a manager, the pharmacy owner or the human resources department if working for a larger organisation. Employers have a responsibility to investigate the situation and take action to stop it from continuing,” said Ms Dunkley.

“If you are not satisfied with the response of the employer and the behaviour continues then take the situation to an external body. An employee union (e.g. Professional Pharmacists Australia) will assist anyone experiencing sexual harassment. In addition there are external bodies such as the Human Rights Commission, noting that there are also equivalent state bodies which will assist such as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission that you can lodge a complaint with. People experiencing sexual harassment can also seek independent legal advice.

“Whenever possible it is important to take action promptly to protect yourself and others from further abuse.

“Employers manage these situations best by taking any complaints seriously and investigating promptly. Find out if there are witnesses and if others are also experiencing the same behaviour.

“Handle the matter discreetly while you are undertaking your investigation. Seek advice from your industrial relations advisor, for example your local branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. Employers also need to set the standard for behaviour and ensure a clear message to all staff that sexual harassment will not be tolerated,” she said.

“The Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) provides anonymous and confidential support in any situation, including sexual harassment. We will support any caller and assist them to take appropriate action according to their circumstances. We are available every day of the year between 8am and 11pm EST on 1300 244 910.

“If you are finding it hard to talk about what is happening or something that has happened we are there to listen and we will not judge you. Our aim is to empower you to take the next steps in resolving the situation.”

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  1. Robert Broadbent



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