Harassment and Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  It includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).  Sexual harassment can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.  For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Unlawful sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances and does not require economic injury to or discharge of the victim.  The salient feature of sexual harassment is that the harasser's conduct is unwelcome.  As such, it is helpful, but not necessary, for the victim of sexual harassment to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop.

Harassers can be anyone in the workplace.  It can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or even a non-employee.  It is also important to understand that the victim does not have to be of the opposite sex of the harasser for sexual harassment to occur.  The victim as well as the harasser may very well be of the same sex.  Finally, the victim does not have to be the actual person harassed but could be anyone in the workplace affected by the offensive conduct.

It is unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on sex or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying as a witness, or participating in any way in an equal employment opportunity (EEO) investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII.

If you feel that you have been the victim of Sexual Harassment and wish to file an EEO complaint, please contact the NOAA Office of Inclusion and Civil Rights at:  (800)-452-6728 or (301) 713-0500; see the EEO counseling & complaints page or a list of OICR staff for assistance.  It is important to note that the EEO complaint process is focused on providing remedial relief to employees affected by discriminating behavior.  The process is not designed to proactively address harassing behaviors or mete out discipline to identified harassers.

Reporting Harassment Outside of the EEO Process

For employees seeking to terminate harassing behaviors, whether of a sexual nature or not, incidents of harassment can be reported to NOAA’s Office of Human Capital Services (OHCS) Employee & Labor Relations Branch (ELRB) pursuant to Department Administrative Order (DAO) 202-955.  Commonly referred to as the 955 Process, this reporting mechanism provides employees a way to report harassment of any kind through a process that is separate and distinct from the EEO complaint process.  Where the EEO complaint process focuses on providing remedial relief to employees affected by discriminating behavior, the 955 Process provides NOAA employees with an expedited process for reviewing allegations of harassment, terminating actual incidents of harassment, and taking disciplinary action as appropriate.

In an effort to eliminate harassing behaviors and maintain workplaces free from discrimination, employees are strongly encouraged to report any incident they perceive to be prohibited harassment, including incidents personally experienced as well as those they witness.  To initiate the process employees may either report the incident to their immediate supervisor, a higher-level supervisor or to ELRB as soon as the incident occurs.

Any manager or supervisor who receives an allegation of prohibited harassment from an employee must immediately report the allegation, in writing, to ELRB.  Failure by the manager or supervisor to report the allegation could result in disciplinary or adverse action against the manager or supervisor for failure to adhere to the provisions of the DAO.  As such, employees must understand that if they speak to their manager or supervisor regarding an incident of harassment, the manager or supervisor will have an obligation to report it to ELRB for possible investigation.

To the extent possible, NOAA will protect the confidentiality of employees who make prohibited harassment reports.  Unfortunately, NOAA cannot guarantee complete confidentiality, since it cannot conduct an effective inquiry without revealing certain information to the alleged harasser and potential witnesses.  Nonetheless, NOAA is committed to ensuring that the allegation of harassment is shared only with those who have a need to know.

As with the EEO complaint process, employees who make reports of prohibited harassment or provide information related to such reports will be protected from retaliation.

It is important to understand that filing a complaint under the 955 Process is not equivalent to filing an EEO complaint, nor will filing an EEO complaint automatically result in the filing of a complaint under the 955 process.  OICR EEO counselors will make every effort to ensure that ELRB is notified when we receive a complaint of harassment, but it is incumbent on you, the employee, to ensure that a complete report is filed.  You must proactively report the harassment to ELRB to ensure that an investigation is conducted under the 955 Process.

If you wish to report a harassment or assault allegation related to the NOAA workplace or if you have any questions related to harassment, please contact OHCS at DAO-955.OHCS@noaa.gov

NOAA Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment (SASH) Helpline

If you have experienced sexual harassment or been the victim of sexual assault, NOAA has established the NOAA Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment (SASH) Helpline offsite link.  This helpline was designed to provide crisis intervention, referrals, and emotional support to NOAA employees, contractors, and affiliates who are victims and/or survivors of sexual harassment or sexual assault.  The helpline is operated by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization.  More information about RAINN is available at http://www.rainn.org offsite link.

Through the NOAA SASH Helpline, RAINN support specialists provide live, confidential, one-on-one support regardless of the place or time of the occurrence.  This support is available to all NOAA employees, contractors, and affiliates even if the incident occurs outside of the workplace or is unrelated to work.  All services are anonymous, secure, and available worldwide, 24/7.  The NOAA SASH Helpline is accessible through a variety of channels, including:

Do not suffer in silence.  If you have been the victim of sexual assault or sexual harassment, we encourage you to use this excellent resource and speak to someone who may be able to help you start healing and provide you with the resources you need to address your particular situation.

Employee Assistance Program

Additionally, NOAA employees and their immediate family members may also contact the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for counseling services.  The EAP is administered by the Federal Occupational Health (FOH), a component of the U.S. Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services, and is a professional counseling and referral resource that is available to help you resolve life challenges, large or small.  Through the EAP, you are offered, at no charge three (3) telephonic counseling sessions to help identify and resolve specific issues of concern and a host of other services and resources. 

NOAA staff can access additional resources on NOAA’s Workplace Programs internal website offsite link.  Employees may also contact the EAP directly by phone 24/7 toll free at 800-222-0364 (for individuals with hearing impairments, TTY 800-262-7848 to take advantage of their services.