Expert Analysis

Nancy Hughes
Nancy L. Hughes, MS, RN
Past Director
Center for Occupational and Environmental Health
American Nurses Association

To keep the therapeutic relationship intact, a nurse may need to set limits on behavior if inappropriate behavior is exhibited. Many nurses ignore the inappropriate behavior but in doing so, perpetuate it.

Sexual harassment is not part of the job but it has been shown to be pervasive in healthcare. In the United States, sexual harassment is classified as a form of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is characterized by conduct of a sexual nature that is unwanted and unwelcome by the receiver—in this case, the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). Conduct is considered unwelcome when it is neither invited nor solicited and the behavior is deemed offensive and undesirable.

In this scenario, the CNA reacted to the unwelcome sexual advance by letting the patient know his actions were inappropriate and unacceptable. She stated clearly and somewhat abruptly to the harassing patient that his actions should not be repeated and were clearly unwelcome. She had completed the patient's request, so promptly left the room. Rather than ignore the issue, the CNA rightly reported the incident to her supervisor.

In the event that a nurse or other caregiver is unable to stop sexual harassment through the organization's internal system, an employee has the private right to take legal action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Page last reviewed: February 7, 2020