Recently, there has been increasing awareness and discussion of incidents of sexual abuse and sexual harassment within society. As healthcare professionals, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians must be particularly committed to preventing sexual abuse of patients and sexual harassment of colleagues.
Sexual abuse of a patient by a pharmacy professional can include sexual intercourse, touching of a sexual nature and remarks of a sexual nature, among other behaviours1. Workplace sexual harassment means engaging in a course of knowingly unwelcome vexatious comment or conduct against a worker because of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, or making a knowingly unwanted sexual advance where the person making the advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker2. Some of these actions would also be considered sexual assault in the criminal jurisdiction.
The College has been clear on this: any act of abuse and harassment of a patient, customer, staff person or colleague is unacceptable. Such actions are subject to investigation as professional misconduct. Moreover, ignoring harassment or abuse can be equal to condoning the perpetrator’s actions, which further harms the victim and may itself be subject to sanction.
Protecting Patients from Abuse
The recent passage of the Protecting Patients Act (2017) is a reminder that healthcare professionals and regulatory colleges have an obligation to protect patients from sexual abuse. As the remaining provisions and regulations of the Act come into effect, the College will continue to reinforce the fact that inappropriate behaviour towards patients is not acceptable and that disciplinary action will be taken as appropriate.
As regulated healthcare professionals, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have obligations to maintain appropriate boundaries with their patients, meaning that their behaviour aligns with the Code of Ethics. Examples can be found in the College guideline on Preventing Sexual Abuse and Harassment. Pharmacy professionals must never become sexually involved with a patient and must not harass or otherwise intimidate patients.
Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians must also make mandatory reports where they have reasonable grounds to believe that another regulated healthcare professional has sexually abused a patient. Designated managers or anyone else who is operating a facility and has reasonable grounds to believe that a regulated healthcare professional practicing there has sexually abused a patient must also make a report.
No Tolerance for Workplace Sexual Harassment
Everyone should have an expectation that they are safe at work and free from harassment and abuse. Employers should understand their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in this regard. Inappropriate behaviour towards colleagues, including unwanted touching and remarks of a sexual nature, may be considered dishonourable, disgraceful and unprofessional conduct by the College’s disciplinary processes.
Pharmacy professionals are expected to demonstrate personal and professional integrity and to maintain professional boundaries at all times. These boundaries are based on trust, respect and appropriate use of power. The Code of Ethics specifically requires that pharmacy professionals do not exploit power imbalances in professional working relationships for their own personal, physical, emotional, or sexual gain.
Owners and managers have inherent obligations to support a safe and effective working environment. This includes recognizing their obligations towards workers under workplace and human rights legislation. The tone set for the organization by leadership determines how staff interact among each other and with patients. Intimidation and harassment are also detrimental to a culture of patient safety and may cause additional risks to patients.
A Shared Obligation
Patients and caregivers expect that pharmacy professionals will act in their best interests and uphold the honour of the profession and practice in accordance with the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. Employees expect that they will be safe when they go to work every day and that their employer will support them in this regard. The College expects that pharmacy professionals will govern themselves in accordance with the law, the Code of Ethics and the Standards of Practice and will not engage in any dishonourable or unprofessional conduct. Meeting these expectations is a shared obligation among individuals, managers and corporations.
There is no room for sexual abuse and harassment in pharmacy, in the workplace or in the community. Rooting out this behaviour is a responsibility that everyone shares.
1. Regulated Health Professions Act
2. Occupational Health and Safety Act
How to make a report related to sexual abuse or harassment
Anyone can make a complaint or report information to the College via the Complaints Form or by calling 1-800-220-1921. Additionally, mandatory reports (health professionals, employers, operators) should be made via the College’s Mandatory Reporting Form.