MSPB’s new study of sexual harassment in the federal workplace found that most of those who reported that they had experienced at least one form of harassment in the prior two years took active steps in response, although only 11 percent of them filed a formal complaint.

Much more common, it said, were asking the harasser to stop (59 percent), reporting the behavior to agency officials (36 percent) or telling or threatening to tell others about it (35 percent); those who responded in more than one way could cite each. Avoiding the harasser, changing jobs or locations, or ignoring the behavior also were common responses.


Employees “had mixed opinions” regarding the outcomes of their responses. “Some felt the action made their situation better; some felt it made things worse, while others said no change occurred. Further, only than 8 percent of the employees believed that corrective action was taken against the harasser(s). Thus, employees may conclude that the risks of reporting harassment outweigh any potential personal or organizational benefits, and decide not to use agency procedures for addressing sexual harassment and holding the harasser(s) accountable for their misconduct,” MSPB said.

In particular, “harassment by an employee in a position of authority may lead employees to believe that resisting or complaining would be futile or put the employee at risk for retaliation.”

Common effects of harassment included reduced productivity and increased use of annual leave or sick leave. Victims are less likely to recommend their agency as a place to work, MSPB added, and the same is true of even co-workers who merely saw harassment. Both categories also “are much less likely to be satisfied with various aspects of the workplace such as their supervisor, managers, their organizational culture, and their level of job stress.”

“It is clear that addressing sexual harassment has great potential to improve not only fairness, but also the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal workforce . . . Federal agencies must improve their education of employees about their responsibilities and rights regarding workplace conduct and hold employees who commit sexual harassment accountable for their misconduct,” it said.