Issue Briefs

Following is the summary findings and recommendations section of a Civil Rights Commission report on sexual harassment in the federal workplace.


Findings

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1. Despite the passage of over thirty years since the landmark ruling establishing that sexual harassment claims may be pursued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, sexual harassment continues to be a significant problem, including in federal workplaces.

2. There is a dearth of publicly available data regarding sexual harassment among federal employees. The challenge of fully understanding the scope of the issue in federal workplaces is compounded by the fact that sexual harassment often goes unreported.

3. While harassment may sometimes be part of inappropriate workplace manifestations of sexual attraction, it is ultimately a demonstration of power, control, and dominance. Any person can be a victim of sexual harassment, regardless of the victim’s or the harasser’s sex or sexual orientation.

4. According to a 2018 Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) survey, an estimated 1 in 7 federal employees experienced sexually harassing behaviors at work between 2016-2018.

5. Structural risk factors for sexual harassment often intersect and are exacerbated by other discriminatory biases based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability.

6. Interns and contractors are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment in federal workplaces because many established protections are unavailable to them.

7. The federal EEO complaint process is unduly complex for victims.

8. Organizational factors have strong correlations in predicting harassment.

9. Overall, the total number of sexual harassment claims – and the number of claims per employee – has been steadily increasing in recent years.

10. Foreign nationals, or locally employed staff, are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment in State Department workplaces abroad, because incidents that occur in overseas posts are handled locally and are often not addressed adequately.

11. Women face the highest risk of sexual harassment in federal workforces.

12. The EEOC estimates that three out of four individuals who experience sexual harassment in the workplace never tell a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the incident.

13. Sexual harassment contributes substantially to the enduring gender pay gap by causing reductions in productivity, increased use of sick and annual leave, and attrition of women.

14. Studies have found that sexual harassment decreases linearly as structural gender imbalances approach parity.

15. Between 2014 and 2016, EEOC reviewed anti-harassment programs at each federal agency under its jurisdiction, finding that a vast majority of federal agencies had ineffective anti-harassment programs.

16. Effectively combatting sexual harassment often requires changing workplace culture, and bystander training can achieve cultural change from within by demonstrating that complaints are welcomed and everyone is working collectively towards a safe and effective workplace.

Recommendations

1. The federal government, as the largest employer in the nation, must be a model employer and it, through its Office of Personnel Management and following guidance from EEOC, should continually disseminate sexual harassment policies and practices consistent with the conduct of a model employer and a leader of protecting the rights of all workers.

2. Federal agencies should take steps to prevent the incidence of workplace sexual harassment, including:

o Implementing department-wide, uniform penalties to be used in disciplinary actions,

o Banning serious perpetrators from receiving promotions and performance awards,

o Ending the practice of reassigning perpetrators to other divisions,

o Embracing and training employees regarding bystander intervention.

3. Federal agencies need to implement mandatory anti-harassment training programs that are specific, clear, and accessible and target every level of employee.

4. Federal agencies should scrutinize policies that permit the use of nondisclosure clauses in settlements of harassment and other discrimination claims.

5. Congress should enact explicit statutory protections from sexual harassment for federal government contractors and interns, whether paid or unpaid.

6. Congress should establish a federal ombudsperson, empowered to investigate alleged sexual harassment claims of complainants who may not have adequate recourse through available channels where existing agency structures may be compromised by conflicts.

7. Congress should allocate additional funds to enable EEOC to help agencies proactively identify and prevent sexual harassment.

8. The EEOC should begin collecting and reporting intersectional data on sexual harassment in federal workplaces, so that more effective and targeted measures can be taken to combat harassment against the people most affected by it.

9. Stricter enforcement of the anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws that protect individuals in federally funded institutions under Title IX is needed to address the culture of sexual harassment and misogyny in grant-receiving research institutions.

10. In light of testimony that the USCCR received, and the often isolated geographic conditions in which diplomatic functions must be discharged, it is important that State Department leadership, including the Secretary, direct and ensure that the culture of State workplaces globally is to have zero tolerance for sexual harassment, meaningful access to fair processes where claims are asserted, and no tolerance for retaliation.

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