- December 19, 2017

Zinke ‘Zero Tolerance’ For Workplace Harassment At Interior

by Jackson Hole. Media

U.S. Department of the Interior released results from a Work Environment Survey that shows 35 percent of its employees were harassed or discriminated against in the 12 months preceding the anonymous survey. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, who have been on the forefront of instilling a culture change through swift personnel actions, transparency and a zero-tolerance policy, have issued a call for action plans from all bureau and office heads across the Department.

The Work Environment Survey was sent during the period of January 9 to March 5, 2017 to all DOI personnel employed as of December 10, 2016. CFI Group, a third-party contractor to the Department of the Interior, conducted the survey and developed the report that was released today. The survey results come two months after the National Park Service and Secretary Zinke announced the NPS-specific results from the same survey.

“From day one, I made it clear that I have zero tolerance for any type of workplace harassment, and I have directed leadership across the entire Department to move rapidly to improve accountability and transparency with regard to this absolutely intolerable behavior,” said Secretary Zinke. “All employees have the right to work in a safe and harassment-free environment. I’ve already fired a number of predators who other administrations were too afraid to remove or just turned a blind eye to. Under my leadership we don’t protect predators. When I say ‘zero tolerance’ I mean that these people will be held accountable for their abhorrent actions.”

The survey, which is the first of its scope done across the federal government, was designed to assess workplace conditions that Interior employees experience, including the prevalence and context of all forms of harassment. 28,203 employees responded to the survey, or a 44% response rate. Results showed that 20.5 percent of employees experienced age-related harassment, 16.5 percent experienced harassment because of their gender, 9.3 percent because of their race or ethnicity, and 8 percent experienced sexual harassment. Other forms of harassment that were surveyed were religion (7.1 percent), disability (6.1 percent) and sexual orientation (3.6 percent). 0.74 percent of respondents experienced a sexual assault.

In a memo sent today to bureau and office heads, Deputy Secretary Bernhardt directed each to develop and submit a formal action plan within 45 days to address their specific survey results. Those plans, which will also be sent to the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, will include a schedule for accomplishing those actions and a description of how they will assess success.

“Intimidation, harassment, and discrimination are viruses within an operation, and have no place at Interior,” said Deputy Secretary Bernhardt. “The previous administration failed to aggressively address these problems and it shows. The culture across the Department will change. It’s up to all levels of management to ensure that our employees have a healthy work environment that empowers them to be productive and effective for the American people. And if managers are the problem, we will deal with of them.”

The Department has revised the performance standards for managers and supervisors to ensure that their future performance ratings will reflect their success or failure in holding employees accountable for harassing conduct. In addition, the new Department harassment policy which is now in draft form will implement a mandatory reporting process for reporting allegations of harassing conduct up the chain of command. This reporting structure will ensure that misconduct is not ignored and that appropriate disciplinary action is taken.

Since the Department received initial survey results, Interior has:

  • Issued the National Park Service Anti-Harassment Policy and its accompanying draft Reference Manual in October. NPS has been collecting employee comments on the Reference Manual and will finalize it soon. The new NPS anti-harassment policy has been strengthened by defining more broadly what is 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. This should serve as template for other bureaus and offices
  • Drafted a Department-wide harassing conduct policy that is similar to the NPS Anti-Harassment Policy; it defines more broadly prohibited harassing conduct to allow managers to hold employees accountable for conduct that may not rise to the level of illegal harassment. The Policy will have a reporting structure to ensure that management knows when allegations of harassing conduct are raised and that matters are investigated quickly.
  • Issued an Investigator Guide to Conducting Administrative Investigators. The guidance sets consistent high standards, ensuring that misconduct investigations, including those dealing with harassing conduct, are conducted in a thorough, impartial and fair manner, and any resulting disciplinary or other actions are defensible.
  • Trained close to 100 employee relations and employment law practitioners on conducting administrative investigations into allegations of misconduct.
  • Expanded the cadre of ombuds professionals available, with most Bureaus now having a dedicated ombuds resource in place.
  • Created/updated dedicated internal and external employee webpages with resources on harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

“These survey results don’t illustrate a new problem, but they will help us target where we must dedicate efforts and resources to fix a problem that has festered for years,” said Secretary Zinke. “We are now continuing the needed steps in creating plans across all of our bureaus and offices to ensure that every employee feels, not only safe on a daily basis, but also empowered to speak up should they feel harassed or discriminated against.”

Department employees who have experienced harassment or discrimination can find a wide variety of resources at DOI.gov/employees.

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