USDA OIG Harassment Survey and Report in Forest Service Region 5 Released

Posted today: The FS response here.
Here are some actions that the FS is doing or is going to do.

Opened the Harassment Reporting Center (Nov. 2017): The Forest Service Harassment Reporting Center is a single office dedicated to receiving all reports of all types of harassment. The Harassment Reporting Center is open seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern. Representatives can be reached by calling the toll-free number: (844) 815-8943. It is operated by skilled and trained, contracted representatives who are available to confidentially take reports of harassment from employees, supervisors and anyone who does business with the Forest Service.

Launched the Anti-Harassment Program intranet page (January 2018): The Forest Service has created a new intranet page committed to the Anti-Harassment Program. The intranet page was created to provide a single dedicated resource for all employees and contractors to receive current and accurate information regarding the anti-harassment policy and program. The new page will answer frequently asked questions, such as what is harassment, how to report it, what to expect once reported and what to expect regarding the inquiry or investigation.

Applied accountability and continuous learning
: Since the establishment of our new anti-harassment policy in September 2016, we have received 1,013 reports of harassment and have completed inquiries/investigations in 632 of those cases. Of the 632 cases, 150 cases found misconduct and we have implemented corrective actions. The 150 corrective actions taken range from letters of warning all the way to termination/removal depending on the severity and facts gathered in each case. When looking at the cases where no misconduct/harassment occurred, those cases suggest the need to provide a better understanding of what harassment is. Along with that, we see a need for quicker assistance to overcome workplace conflicts or communication barriers that are not harassment or misconduct. This is particularly true when it comes to the bullying category. In these cases, we have implemented a process to quickly provide opportunities to resolve conflict and communication issues by offering the services of our Conflict Management and Prevention Program.

Created a senior advisor in the Chief’s Office
: The senior advisor will integrate agency efforts that improve the work environment. This position aims to reinforce the Forest Service’s ongoing commitment to create a harassment-free workplace where every employee feels valued and respected.

In coming weeks here are other actions we will take:

Finalizing an agency-wide anti-harassment training to continue to provide employees with the tools they need to eliminate harassment from our work environment. It addresses the five key points of our policy while stressing that every employee has a responsibility for doing their part when it comes to eliminating harassment. Training will be delivered to all employees by our senior leaders. We expect to begin delivering this training in late spring 2018.

Designing work environment engagement opportunities that focus on building trust and provides a safe forum for employees to discuss the work environment.

Establishing an employee advisory group to identify proactive steps for peer-to-peer engagement and support to empower employees. This group will advise the Chief and senior leadership on additional practices or policy steps needed to eliminate harassment and promote safe and respectful workspaces. As we learn more, we will continue to enhance and strengthen our agency. We must continue to uplift and empower our employees and maintain a respectful, safe working environment.

If you have been harassed, or you know of harassment taking place, please report it to the national Harassment Reporting Center, where it will be documented and investigated. Learn more on the center’s website.”

Here is a link to the OIG survey. I must admit I was a little curious about “supervisor harassment.” I searched and couldn’t find it defined in the document.
Comments welcome!

4 Comments

  1. First, creating space (a safe space) to openly discuss our experiences in order to be heard and to hear and consider different perspectives allowing us to see sitautions through muliple lenses without jumping right through the harassment inquiry/investigation is KEY as a “learning organization”. Besides, The Civil Rights (CR) and Human Resources (HR) harassment inquiry/investigation system is bottle-necked and backlogged enough, as is. This safe space could increase awareness and even resolve issues at the lowest level.

    Second, let’s just admit it, our CR/HR/LR/ER staffs are not communicating with one another and are just not effective and unclear and even conflicting. This is also why our training has been completely ineffective. Glad to hear that Senior Leaders will be leading the charge on this. That sends a message. Also, Bottom line, what gets talked about gets done.

    I would also recommend a training on power and how people respond to people in positions of power. I think powerful people can misinterpret young female subordinate’s response to that power as something more…maybe romantic feelings, etc.

    Third, a senior advisor in the Chiefs Office is critical….mostly because there are some credibility concerns there and this has been way too distracting as it is. We have other priorities as well. Sharon, this spounds similar to what you suggedted and could work. What will tell me whether this just another box check or a real effort to invoke change will be WHO is put into this role. This decision will send the message to employees of how important (or unimportant) this effort really is.

    The individual will need to have knowledge of agency culture and history AS WELL AS be able to LISTEN with an open mind to the younger generations. The other deal breaker will be WHO is selected for the advisory board and how those selections are made.

    The Chief’s Office might be on to something here…time will tell if they are serious about this or just talking the talk.

    • I really like the “safe space” idea. Close to my retirement, one of my staff members came into my office and said “the problem with this staff is that there are too many women on it.” My first instinct was to listen to my employee and try to understand what he was saying (management training-” why do you feel that way?”) at the same time, part of me was searching through all the training that I had had to figure out “should I tell him he shouldn’t say that?” “is this discrimination or a hostile work environment or harassment or ….?”, and “if I say the wrong thing will I get in trouble for …????.”
      And, honestly, part of me wondered if he were trying to get a rise out of me and make me say something he could use against me.

      My neurons kind of melted down in the moment. It would have been helpful to have someone to talk it through with later, though.

      This echoes your point that maybe there is too much potentially conflicting training, and at some point the different offices need to be better coordinated, but also that there is no substitute for someone knowledgeable about all the rules, and the culture, to sit down with you and talk about specifics.

      I could have used CR, HR, EEO, ER to talk to.. but those poor folks had serious stuff on their plates (putting people on PIPs, mediation sessions among staff folks, and real issues from other units) that my issue seemed not worthy of adding to the plates of these enormously hardworking and caring people. That’s why one of my ideas was to focus on them and what their ideas are for how to fix this.

  2. You are right – CR ER LR HR do have a lot on their plates and very difficult jobs. I didnt mean to imply they don’t work hard. I guess I wish it was easier for employees and supervisors to have clear and coordinated direction on what our values, policies, and resources are. Hopefully, these new efforts will help us get there (at the lowest level). Thanks Sharon.

    • No, I didn’t think you were saying that. I completely agree with you.
      “I guess I wish it was easier for employees and supervisors to have clear and coordinated direction on what our values, policies, and resources are.”
      Thinking more about my example, I think I was really lucky to have all those people available right down the hall when I needed them and they were people I knew and trusted to be confidential and do a good job. When I think about centralization of HR, even when they moved from the Ochoco to the MOD (I think it was the Malheur Ochoco Deschutes) in the early 80’s, something was lost. I’m not saying go back to HR at every unit, but trust of “the people in the system” has got to be a consideration. And I know that not all local HR people were necessarily trustworthy either. Trust is a big deal but perhaps too mushy for federal bureaucracies to talk about much.

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