Few federal employees file formal complaints with their agency in response to sexual harassment and even fewer believe that their agency took corrective action against a harasser, according to a recent Merit Systems Protection Board Survey.
“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,” the report said.
Only 11 percent of employees filed a formal complaint of the harassment, with only eight percent believing that their harasser received punishment. Meanwhile, 61 percent of those surveyed simply chose to avoid their harasser.
The same report found that in 2016 and 2015 over 14 percent of federal employees, most of them women, had experienced some form of sexual harassment. And while this number is well down from the number of federal employees experiencing sexual harassment in 1994, the last time the study was conducted, both observance and experience of sexual assault negatively impacted employee productivity and outlook on their agency.
“Progress has been made since 1994 in reducing sexual harassment within the federal government. However, it is also clear that many employees, particularly women, continue to experience sexual harassment. Therefore, 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,” the report said.
The Navy, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Homeland Security were the worst agencies for women, with at least a quarter of female respondents saying that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Homeland Security were the worst agencies for men, with just under 15 percent of male respondents saying they had experienced sexual harassment.
The Securities and Exchange Commission had the fewest reports of sexual harassment for women, and the Army had the fewest reports for men.
Perpetrators of sexual harassment were largely male and coworkers of their targets, though 23 percent of respondents said that their harasser was an immediate or high-level supervisor.
“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,” the report said.
“Agencies that tolerate sexual harassment may incur broader costs beyond the more obvious legal expenses associated with resolving equal employment opportunity complaints.”
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.