Protected Groups Defined
NIH Updates Policy Manual on Harassment, Discrimination
The NIH Policy Manual Chapter on Preventing and Addressing Harassment and Inappropriate Conduct has been updated to reflect the recommendations of the UNITE initiative.
When the agency first strengthened its policies on preventing and addressing harassment and inappropriate conduct and centralized the reporting and inquiry process through the NIH Office of Human Resource’s Civil Branch in 2018, many employees mistakenly thought the policy referred only to sexual harassment.
Members of the initiative believed some employees who were experiencing harassment may not identify themselves with the policy. The update makes clear that all types of harassment—not just sexual harassment—are covered under the policy, said Jessica Hawkins, Civil Branch chief.
The revised policy defines what groups are protected from harassment-based employment discrimination. Protected classes include race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, transgender status and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 years or older), disability and genetic information.
The update also explains the steps contractors must take if they want to report harassment or inappropriate conduct. They are encouraged to first discuss concerns with their contracting company and/or the contracting officer’s representative, and then follow their company’s reporting requirements. Contractors may also report their concerns to Civil.
Finally, the revised policy explains the differences between two processes—the Civil process and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints through the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
“People have often come to our office confused about their protections and which office to go to for which type of issues that they’ve faced within the workforce,” said Treava Hopkins-Laboy, EDI acting director. “The updated manual chapter clearly identifies the options available for employees who feel they’ve been subjected to harassment discrimination or just inappropriate behavior.”
Civil receives allegations of inappropriate conduct, including all forms of harassment, and oversees the appropriate administrative review or inquiry in an objective and consistent manner across NIH. Civil’s goal is to stop any inappropriate or harassing behaviors immediately and to ensure that appropriate corrective action is taken in a timely manner.
“Anyone can report inappropriate behavior; it doesn’t need to meet the legal definition of harassment,” said Hawkins.
This is separate and distinct from the EEO complaint process.
An EEO complaint may be filed by a current or former employee or an applicant for employment who alleges discrimination based on [being a member of] a legally protected class. EDI’s complaint processing provides for informal counseling, investigation, adjudication and potential resolution of EEO complaints.
Employees must contact EDI within 45 days of the discriminatory incident to file a pre-complaint of discrimination, or within 45 days of when they become aware that they have been discriminated against. Reporting an incident to Civil does not start the 45-day process.
Staff who want to file an EEO complaint must contact EDI separately to ensure they submit their claim within the 45-day timeframe. Contacting Civil will not stop, pause, or alter the timeframe available to employees to contact EDI for filing an EEO complaint.
NIH managers and supervisors should review the updated policy closely to understand fully their obligation to report allegations of harassment to Civil as soon as possible and to cooperate fully in a review of the concerns.
“Managers and supervisors play a major role in the process,” said Hawkins. “While Civil centralizes fact finding, managers and supervisors are still the one with the authority to take action and address concerns.”
Managers and supervisors are also responsible for ensuring their staff are aware of this policy and know where they can learn more about Civil’s process. Importantly, managers and supervisors must not discourage staff from, or reprimand staff for, reporting allegations.
“The manual is just one piece of the puzzle to create a more inclusive workplace,” said Hopkins-Laboy.
The complete list of revisions can be found on the Civil website at https://hr.nih.gov/working-nih/civil/nih-manual-chapter-1311-summary-2021-updates.
The policy manual chapter can be found at https://policymanual.nih.gov/1311.