News October 17, 2017

DOI Outlines Action Plan to Combat Harassment

by Jackson Hole. Media

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Acting Director of the National Park Service Mike Reynolds announced an immediate action plan to combat the widespread and pervasive culture of harassment and discrimination throughout the National Park Service (NPS). The action plan will ensure that employees, especially managers, are held accountable when harassment is found. They also released the results of a NPS survey of employees which found 38 percent of employees had experienced harassment or discrimination of some kind while on the job.

“From day one, I made it clear that I have zero tolerance for harassment in the workplace, and I directed leadership in the National Park Service to move rapidly to improve accountability and transparency,” Secretary Zinke said. “All employees have the right to work in an environment that is safe and harassment-free. I’ve removed a number of people who were abusive or acted improperly that other administrations were too afraid to or just turned a blind eye to. Under my leadership we’re going to hold people accountable. We are also fixing the problem of victims being afraid of retaliation or inaction by codifying the right for victims to report abuse to any manager in any location across the Service, and by bringing on an independent, investigative partner.”

The NPS Work Environment Survey found that 10.4% of NPS employees experienced sexual harassment in the last 12 months, 19.3% experienced gender harassment, and 0.95% reported experiencing sexual assault. The report also looked at harassment more broadly, measuring harassment based on age, race or ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation and sexual assault. Overall, 38.7% of employees reported experiencing some form of harassment in the last 12 months and survey results indicate many experienced some form of harassment prior to the last 12 months.

“Harassment has no place in the National Park Service, and our leadership is committed to a new approach to harassment that emphasizes accountability and respect in the workplace,” said Acting Director Michael T. Reynolds. “We believe that a multi-disciplinary approach that includes policy change, consistent discipline, training, and employee empowerment will reduce harassment and respond quickly when it is identified. We are directly engaging with employees at all levels of the organization to ensure that this action plan meets their needs and is effective on the ground.”

Along with the release of the NPS Work Environment Survey, the agency outlined a series of action items to increase accountability and respond to harassment across the organization. The NPS is:

  • Standardizing and strengthening policies on harassment: The NPS is implementing a new, fully accountable system that will efficiently review allegations of harassment. The NPS anti-harassment policy has been strengthened by defining more broadly what would be prohibited harassing conduct to ensure that employees can be held accountable for harassing conduct even if such behavior may not rise to the level of illegal harassment under EEO laws. Although not every instance of harassing conduct may fit the legal definition of harassment, such behavior in the workplace undermines morale and the mission of the Service. A director’s order outlining the new policy, and an accompanying reference manual will ensure that a thorough and consistent review of all harassment allegations is completed. The new policy ensures that every NPS employee understands his or her responsibility to prevent, report and respond to harassment in the workplace.
  • Increasing capacity to investigate and address harassment complaints: NPS is increasing its Employee Relations and Labor Relations staff with ten additional employees and the Ethics staff with four additional employees to improve the capacity to investigate and resolve allegations and incidents of harassment efficiently.
  • Expanding training to support harassment prevention efforts: NPS is prioritizing a number of learning and performance support options to empower employees, supervisors and managers with the knowledge, skills, and resources to help prevent harassment and improve work environments. Elements include bystander training, civil treatment for leaders, and investigation methods for Employee and Labor Relation Specialists across the NPS.
  • Support employee voices: NPS continues to support and collaborate with Employee Resource Groups, including the Women’s Employee Resource Group, launched in April 2017. In addition, the NPS continues to support its successful Ombuds program, develop additional job aids and resources for supervisors, improve internal communications structure, deploy a team of peer and professional facilitators, and continues to identify and tackle the root causes of harassment and hostile work environments in its organizational culture.

The survey found that 74.7% of employees who experienced harassment did not file a report or complaint about the behavior. Of those who chose not to report, 45.9% thought nothing would be done if they filed a report or complaint, and 33% did not trust the process. Consequently, the NPS action plan emphasizes changes that will ensure timely, appropriate and decisive responses to allegations. The NPS action plan is targeted to increase confidence by: increasing the number of ethics officers, strengthening management performance standards to ensure that leaders are held accountable on these issues, establishing a standard process that elevates harassment claims quickly for appropriate investigation and action, and ensuring that appropriate disciplinary action is taken.

“This Administration is making fundamental changes that create accountability in the system and will deliver timely, appropriate and decisive responses to allegations,” said Secretary Zinke. “Employees deserve better, and we will ensure that leadership at every level of the National Park Service is held accountable for ensuring that harassment claims are investigated, and appropriate discipline results when the evidence supports it.”

Almost 50% of NPS employees participated in the Work Environment Survey between January 9 and March 5, 2017, and the report released today includes the findings from that period. A second opportunity for new and seasonal employees to take the survey was conducted between July 24 and September 15, 2017, and the agency will release the results of the second survey period once the analysis is complete.

Some parks affected by harassment, including Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks, have conducted informal surveys and focus groups to better understand the experience of employees and respond locally to workplace dynamics where harassment has been documented.

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