Lawyers call White House sexual harassment policy ‘useless’ (Politico)

Lawyers call White House sexual harassment policy ‘useless’

http://politi.co/2A6j8a0

At the Department of Justice, there have been 31 sexual harassment complaints through the third quarter of 2017, a number in line with recent years. At the CIA, there were six sexual harassment complaints from 2012 to 2016, according to its federal reports.

But there are no comparable records for the White House, thanks to a 2002 law — the No FEAR Act — that exempts the Executive Office of the President from filing requirements that apply to other executive branch agencies.

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As Congress and the private sector move to improve reporting procedures and increase transparency amid multiplying revelations of widespread harassment, the White House remains uniquely opaque — and reliant on guidance lawyers say falls short of common standards for shielding employees from abuse.

Employees joining the White House are provided with new-hire documents that contain two pages that define sexual harassment and discrimination, and give directions for reporting such incidents.

The document, which was obtained by POLITICO, lists three “strategies for addressing discrimination”: “Talk to the individual about any behavior, actions or decisions that appear discriminatory; Discuss the situation or incident with an appropriate supervisor; Seek EEO [Equal Employment Opportunity] counseling.”

The paperwork had not been substantially updated or changed from what the Obama administration was using when President Donald Trump took office, according to a White House source.

Five lawyers who reviewed the document for POLITICO raised concerns.

“It’s a complete failure if this is their actual policy,” said Carolyn Wheeler, a former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawyer. “Other than giving you a definition of what harassment is, I’d say it’s useless.”

Typically, employees at federal agencies are directed to file sexual harassment complaints with the agency’s equal employment opportunity officer. Almost every office in the sprawling federal bureaucracy — from big agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services to much smaller federal offices, like the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation and the Marine Mammal Commission — has one.

For workers at all those agencies, it’s easy to find out who that person is, because contact information for all federal equal employment officers is listed on the EEOC’s website — but not for the White House, which is missing.

“EEOC maintains the list on www.eeoc.gov as a courtesy and it is not comprehensive,” Brett Brenner, a spokesman for the EEOC told POLITICO in a statement.

At the White House, the official’s name, Clara Patterson, is not specified in the new employee document provided to POLITICO. The back of the handbook contains a web address for more information, but that address is incorrect.

The White House is in the process of updating it, according to the White House source.

“If it were my client, I would say you haven’t focused enough on the internal complaint procedure,” said Deborah Kelly, a labor and employment lawyer who represents employers. “You shouldn’t have to sit in your desk or your cubicle and say, ‘Oh my god I don’t know who to tell.’ It should be crystal clear to you.”

Kelly added: “It’s not incorrect, but it is not as user-friendly as I think you would want it to be to show how seriously you take this issue.”

Beyond specifying whom to contact, such documents should also outline what happens next, lawyers said. Ensuring employees that their complaints will be confidential and investigated in a timely manner — and that they are protected from retribution — is crucial to creating an environment in which people feel comfortable coming forward, they said.

“They need to tell you where to go and what happens after that, what to expect, that there will be no retaliation that their complaints will be handled confidentially,” Wheeler said.

The White House provided POLITICO with the following statement: “The White House is committed to a workplace environment free from discriminatory behavior and one that embraces diversity. Providing the workforce vital information required to recognize and prevent one form of discriminatory behavior, in this case, sexual harassment, is part of the Executive Office of the President’s ongoing commitment to educating its staff on broader Equal Employment Opportunity issues. The Executive Office of the President has robust policies, guidance and guidelines on the serious issue of sexual harassment — that it is inappropriate and against the law.”

The White House source said that “written guidance on preventing sexual harassment” is available in a handbook for new employees and on the White House intranet.

White House employees are not required to undergo sexual harassment training. Three current senior White House officials confirmed to POLITICO that they had received no such training.

While sexual harassment training is not required by federal law, it is highly recommended, according to lawyers who spoke with POLITICO.

“If you’re the federal government, you should live by and model the best practices that you want the rest of the country to follow,” Kelly said, which would some form of include sexual harassment training for all employees and in-person training for top managers and leaders.

“A commitment to inclusion and nondiscrimination starts at the top and where the leader of an organization is known to harass or discriminate it is much tougher to convince employees that they will be taken seriously or protected if they complain about harassment or discrimination,” said Wheeler.

The idea of President Donald Trump sitting through harassment training, however, had some raising their eyebrows.

“How would you like to be the trainer to face the challenge of providing training to the president?” asked David Fortney, an employment lawyer and partner at Fortney & Scott in Washington.

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via Politico http://politi.co/2lnbIsw

November 17, 2017 at 02:27AM