Page Information Updated: Monday, 25 June 2018 .
NFFE-FSC goes to Washington, DC, the week of May 7-11, 2018. For more information, see Legislative Action
Harassment, Bullying, and Retaliation
The Forest Service got a wake up call on March 1, 2018, when the PBS NewsHour ran a story about sexual harassment and retaliation in the Forest Service. The women who came forward for this story deserve respect for being brave enough to tell their story in an open and very public forum, especially as the culture of retaliation in the Forest Service is even more widespread than the culture of sexual harassment.
Harassment and bullying, and subsequent retaliation for reporting these issues, are serious workplace issues. They take a toll on a targeted worker’s health and well-being, their family’s well-being, and their ability to work productively in the workplace. In an Agency that is struggling so hard to get so much work done, none of us should have to come to work in an environment that makes it impossible for us to perform at our best every day.
What is the Union Doing?
Working with the Agency: The Forest Service is taking a number of actions to change the culture of the Agency, but changing culture is difficult. The Union has representatives (Ed Buursma, Sandra Carpenter, and Alex Kong) serving on the Agency’s Employee Advisory Group regarding Work Environment, and the Council President Melissa Baumann is on the team developing a “Stand Up for Each Other” stand down day to be held in June.
Fixing the Anti-Harassment Policy: In addition to working on Agency workgroups, the Union is looking at ways in which the current Anti-Harassment policy is failing to bring the relief that employees are seeking. Since the policy went into effect in the fall of 2016, it has become apparent that reporting harassment under the Anti-Harassment policy (FSH 1765) initiates a misconduct investigation or inquiry into the actions of the alleged harasser or bully. However, our misconduct procedures are not robust enough to identify bullying or retaliation when there is a pattern of low-grade harassment or bullying: In 85 percent of the cases when someone reports harassment that is not based on an EEO basis, there is no finding of misconduct. Our investigators need to be trained to identify bullying behaviors, and these types of harassers must be held accountable.
Continue focus on harassment and retaliation: The PBS NewsHour Story made a splash about sexual harassment in the Forest Service, but the stories the women told about how they were treated after they reported harassment are familiar to any Forest Service employee who has raised a concern from safety concerns, to violations of policy, or even violations of law. Union representatives continue to speak up in all forums to ensure that a culture of harassment (sexual and otherwise) will never change unless and until the Agency changes its culture of retaliation.
Representing employees: Until the culture changes, the Union has an important role in:
- ensuring that workers we represent do not face harassment or bullying,
- assisting and supporting workers whenever they are mistreated at work, and,
- ensuring that those accused of harassement or bullying are treated fairly and consistently.
If you believe that you are facing harassment and/or retaliation for reporting harassment in the workplace, contact your Local union representative. You will probably want to do more than just report it through the Harassment Reporting Center to protect your rights. There are other processes that should be initiated to protect you, and your Union representative can assist with those processes.
Outside Stories about Forest Service Harassment Issues
- Congressional Hearing about Harassment in the Forest Service (Dec. 1, 2016): https://oversight.house.gov/hearing/examining-sexual-harassment-gender-discrimination-u-s-department-agriculture/
- PBS NewsHour Story: They reported sexual harassment. Then the retaliation began.
- PBS NewsHour Video Segments: