Sexual harassment in the workplace is a constant and upsetting problem across the United States. Federal employees are not immune. In fact, a recent report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found several ways that federal employees have things worse than those in the private sector.
The report, titled Federal #MeToo, explored the issue of sexual harassment within the federal government. Because the federal government is the nation’s largest employer, it sets a critical example for other business. But the authors found that the example isn’t all good. They revealed a little bit of good news surrounded by a host of troubling statistics.
Sexual harassment is still widespread
The good news is that the number of people who reported their sexual harassment has risen over the past few years. Government Executive highlighted this point in its summary of the report, noting that claims rose by 36% from 2016 to 2018. That’s good news because harassment victims have long chosen not to report the abuse they’ve suffered. In fact, some private sector studies suggest that 99.8% of victims never file formal charges, so the increased reporting is a good thing.
Unfortunately, the report also found that:
- Approximately 1 in 7 federal employees suffered sexual harassment between 2016 and 2018.
- 80% of victims were women. The number of men reporting their harassment also rose, but black women continued to find themselves targeted more than any other group.
- The current system comes with a built-in risk of conflicts of interest. Federal employees must report to their agencies before they can report to the EEOC, but the agencies tasked to investigate the claims are the same ones defending themselves from those claims.
- The federal government’s time limits are one-third those of the private sector. As a result of those timelines, and other confusing policies, many federal employees unwittingly forfeit their right to report.
- Many agencies continue to discipline perpetrators simply by reassigning them. The commission called for an end to this practice.
- Harassment affects victims outside of the workplace. Many victims suffer ongoing mental and physical health. Their careers also suffer as they are less likely to pursue advances, raises and training.
- Organizations that don’t address harassment are more likely to suffer reduced productivity, a higher use of sick time and increased turnover.
In short, agencies need to address sexual harassment to meet their legal duties, safeguard their employees and improve the workplace. This means addressing both targeted harassment and the behaviors that create toxic cultures.
Change happens one person at a time
There’s one more reason to focus on the good brought about by the increased number of claims. They drive awareness. Without those claims and the people who make them, agencies would not face as much pressure to change and improve. So, amid all the troubling statistics, there’s a reason to focus on the 36% increase in claims. It’s a sign that employees are pushing harder to move the government in the right direction.