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  • Writer's pictureDr. Bette Robin

What is Sexual Harassment?


Sexual harassment is a really big issue these days. It is all over the news, with the “Me Too” movement, and now a new law passed on January 1, 2019 that requires all California employers with 5 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training before Jan. 1 2020. This includes full and part time employees.


One hour or training is required for non-supervisory employees, and 2 hours of training is required for supervisory employees.

Note that in order to meet the Jan 1, 2020 deadline, all employees must be trained in 2019.

This training is not a one-time thing, it is required every 2 years, just as is the Dental Practice Act course and the Infection control – so add that to your list of things that must be done.


Sexual harassment is prohibited under both federal and state law – and what that means to you is basically that you can get the book thrown at you every which way if an employee successfully sues you. Sexual harassment judgements are among the largest out there, and most insurance policies don’t even begin to cover the judgement amounts


There are two main types of harassment:

1. Quid pro quo harassment

2. Hostile work environment harassement.

Quid pro quo literally means – this for that. For example, I’ll look favorable on you for a raise, or a bonus, if you do this for me. Of course, there are many versions of this kind of harassment.

Hostile work environment means a work environment that is generally sexual and hostile.

As an example: One of my first jobs out of school had a separate restroom for “doctors” than for “staff and patients.” One day, when I was in the restroom, I noticed that the wallpaper was literally pornographic, with people having sex in all kinds of contorted positions all over the wall paper. I was shocking when I noticed it, but back then – I wanted to keep my job and said nothing, which has often been the response of women.

Remember, sexual harassment doesn’t have to be sexual at all – it includes showing hostile treatment towards someone based on their gender, based on sexual preference. That is, sexually harassing conduct does not have to be at all motivated by sexual desire.

Also don’t think the sexual harassment has to be only during work hours. If employees see sexual posts about them on social media or receive sexual texts from doctors after hours – this is also sexual harassment.


I think it is relatively common for sexual harassment to take place in a dental office. After all, it still is often male doctors working with a staff of often all females. And, too much of a familiarity often develops and then doctors feel they can take inappropriate liberties.

Sexual harassment isn’t always male to female, but it most often is. However, in a dental office, with a staff of all women, and a male hired – the women can often harass the male. I had a male being harassed in my own dental office, and the poor guy quit after a couple of months. He couldn’t stand being pinched, teased and touched any longer. Fortunately, I did not have any reprucissions from my employees’ actions, but now days it certainly could have led to a constructive discharge claim– which means that the employee cannot tolerate the working environment and has to quit, forming the basis for a wrongful termination suit against the employer.


I don’t know why particularly male dentists seem to think their office is their kingdom and they can literally do whatever they want in it –but they often do.

It is like no law applies to them, whether that law is about sterilizing requirements or about making sexual comments and touches to employees. I mean, we are no longer in the dark ages and that stuff is just not OK.

In what I do, I’ve seen all kinds of weird things. Doctors that give patients porn to read while waiting - sex toys, porn, and alcohol in the doctor’s office – I’ve seen that many times. This certainly could be interpreted as hostile work environment in today’s climate.


Remember, sexual harassment can be a two –edged sword, even if you didn’t get sued for it. In many cases, the employee has a hammer over your head for the rest of your practice ownership life if something like that happens. I see this all too often with practice sales.

For example, I’ll notice a huge expense in the “auto” category of tax return, and when I ask the doctor about it, he’ll admit to making payments on a car for an employee – and when I ask them why, it all comes out.

Sometimes it starts with: Well, 20 years ago, I made a mistake - and now I can’t fire them even though they’ve barely worked since then.

Or, I see the doctor paying for something else quite expensive for a single employee. In those situations, it is almost always due to some kind of sexual relationship between the doctor and that employee – and then that employee basically cannot be fired.

I could go on and on with stories about what I’ve seen in dental offices and there are Dental Board cases galore on this - but the bottom line is – just don’t.

There’s an old Chinese saying – Don’t put your *insert body part* in the cash register – and that is good advice.

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