Starting this month, state employees who’ve been propositioned, groped, belittled or lewdly insulted on the job have more options for coming forward about the abuse.
Under Gov. Brian Kemp’s new sexual harassment policy, workers have the option of reporting to the Office of the Inspector General, the state’s new central clearinghouse for harassment complaints. Complaints can be made through a phone hotline or a website portal.
If workers choose to go the old route of reporting up the chain in their department, the IG’s office can take over the investigation if it doesn’t think a department can be impartial. Either way, departments have to notify the IG within two days of receiving any complaint, and the agency can audit records to make sure departments are following the state’s policies and procedures.
Kemp promised reforms after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation last year found the state's haphazard system for handling sexual harassment complaints made reporting as risky for victims as for offenders. On his first day in office in January, Kemp ordered an overhaul of the system.
But asked Wednesday whether Inspector General Deborah Wallace’s added authority will come with any added financial or manpower resources for her office, Kemp said no — at least not for now.
“Obviously, if Deb feels like she needs that, we’ll be glad to look at that,” Kemp said, adding, “She believes in smaller, more efficient state government, like I do.”
The governor said the focus, for the time being, will be on training employees and managers.
“Once that’s done, we’ll just have to see what the workload is down the road,” Kemp said. “So I’m not too worried about that. I think it’s a worthy thing that we’re doing, and it’ll give all state employees and our constituents a piece of mind that they’re going to be treated the right way when they deal with state government.”
The IG’s office, which is responsible for identifying and preventing fraud, waste, abuse and corruption in the executive branch of state government, lists three investigators on its staff.
Atlanta employment attorney Amanda Farahany, who reviewed several sexual harassment cases for the AJC in its research last year, said that without new resources, the rollout of the policy could be flawed. She estimated that to enforce a policy that covers some 80,000 employees, plus independent contractors, the state would need at least five employees dedicated to the task full time.
Prevention comes from having a true enforcement arm, the attorney said.
“If we start by saying we’re just going to tell employees to stop sexual harassing, and tell other employees that they need to report it, that’s not going to stop it,” Farahany said. “Employees already know that they shouldn’t sexual harass, and if they’re being sexually harassed they know that there’s an option to go talk to somebody about it.”
Another key to the policy’s success, Farahany said, will be what kind of training managers receive as opposed to rank and file employees.
Kemp’s reforms came about as a result of a series of AJC articles last year that found every executive department set its own policies and enforced them “to fit its culture and other business needs,” as an attorney for the state’s main human resources office explained.
In one case, a supervisor in the Department of Agriculture had two food safety inspectors accused of harassing a trainee sit down privately with her to hash it out and apologize. (The supervisor then thought better of it over a long weekend and make proper notifications to his superiors the following week.)
In another case, the Department of Public Safety said an assistant troop commander didn't sexually harass a woman because she didn't tell him to stop and she had shared personal information with him. This, despite that six other women had come forward about sexual comments he had made.
In another case, the AJC found, a 15-year Environmental Protection Division employee claimed a co-worker denied her a spot on an elite environmental cleanup team after she refused to do sexual favors for him. But because an HR manager apparently misunderstood her timeline of events, she was fired for giving false information after more than two hours of grilling by a GBI agent.
Kemp said Wednesday that he wants women — such as his own three teenage daughters — to have the same opportunities in Georgia as he has had.
“And having led an executive branch agency, I know how important all our employees are that are there,” Kemp, Georgia’s former secretary of state, said. “So we have a very diverse group of people in a lot of different ways, and they should be able to do their job without being sexually harassed. And I think it’s important that all of state government does that.”
His policy, however, doesn’t apply to employees under the state Board of Regents or in the judicial or legislative branches. While he’s been pushing for progressive changes, the state Senate has moved in the opposite direction recently, enacting rules that put a two-year cap on reporting abuse, when previously there had been no time limit.
The Senate rules also would sanction anyone who filed a complaint and made it public and bar cases from being investigated while a senator is running for re-election or other office. After an outcry from female lawmakers, as well as Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan urging lawmakers to revisit the rule change, a new policy is being negotiated and a vote could happen before week’s end.
Requirements of Gov. Brian Kemp’s new sexual harassment prevention policy
- All state employees under the executive branch must undergo sexual harassment training by June 1.
- All new employees must be trained within 30 calendar days of hire. After that, they receive annual training.
- Managers and supervisors must be trained within 30 calendar days of receiving a promotion.
- Each agency must have at least two trained sexual harassment investigators, not of the same gender, by the end of March.
- Sexual harassment complaints can be submitted to a victim's supervisor or manager, their division director, their human resources director or their department's designee for receipts of such complaints. Complaints can be written or oral, and can be anonymous.
- Complaints can also be made directly to the state Inspector General's office through a hotline or a web portal.
- Each agency that receives a sexual harassment complaint must notify the Inspector General's office within 2 business days.
- Investigators must complete their work and issue a report within 45 calendar days of assignment. Agencies have 21 days after receipt of the investigative report to make a final determination and take action.
- The Inspector General's office has authority to collect and audit investigations from across state government.
THE STORY SO FAR
Last year a series of articles by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution exposed how the state’s haphazard response to sexual harassment complaints had created a toxic environment — derailing careers, shattering employee morale and making reporting risky for employees. The newspaper examined 205 cases from 21 agencies, and found that while upper-ranking employees often received light sanctions or none for harassing behaviors, lower-ranking workers accused of similar infractions got the ax.
During campaign season, several politicians promised reforms in light of the AJC’s findings — including gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp. On inauguration day, Jan. 14, Gov. Kemp kept his promise, issuing an executive order setting up a centralized system with uniform standards. But that system could tax the state’s new clearninghouse for complaints, the small Office of Inspector General, created in 2003 to investigate waste, fraud and abuse within state government.
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