Veterans’ Affairs Tops Federal List of Reported Sexual Harassment

In light of increased awareness of sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace, investigations and policysexual harassment revisions are happening all over the country. One congresswoman is sounding the alarm in the Department of Veterans Affairs in particular after survey numbers showed reports of sexual harassment there were higher than average across departments in the federal government. Of female respondents, 26 percent said they had experienced sexual harassment, and 14 percent of male respondents between 2014 and 2016, according to a report from Stars and Stripes. In fact, VA respondents reported the highest rates of sexual harassment, with Department of Homeland Security coming in second. This compares to 21 percent of women and 9 percent of men across federal departments as a whole. The survey collected data on a variety of behaviors, ranging from teasing to stalking and sexual assault. Gender harassment led the survey in reported incidents, with unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion following behind.

Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH), ranking Democrat on the Veterans’s Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations, has called on the chairman of the subcommittee to hold a congressional oversight hearing on the matter. Her response came on the heels of findings being released by the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent group that is housed within the executive branch whose mission is to protect the rights of government workers. 

It’s true the VA is the second largest federal department with more than 350,000 employees. However, it should be noted that the size of the agency is not necessarily a contributing factor when it comes to percentage of sexual harassment claims. For example, the Department of Defense has more than double the amount of civilian workers, yet their sexual harassment survey numbers fall well below the average, with women and men reporting harassment at 16 percent and 8 percent respectively.

While the numbers are bleak, officials pointed to a marked improvement over the board’s 1994 sexual harassment survey, in which 44 percent of female respondents and 19 percent of male respondents reported having experienced sexual harassment in some form. While it appears more people are growing aware of what behaviors are no long appropriate for the workplace, many still lack the self awareness to regulate their own behaviors or simply defy the rules anyway. That is where a strong prevention plan is key. Education, awareness, accountability, and proper channels by which people feel safe reporting unwelcome behaviors are key to curbing sexual harassment, and ideally stopping it before it even starts. Prevention efforts are not only the best way to create a safe work environment for everyone, they are also just smart business, saving companies potentially costly litigation. The MSBP pointed to a notable increase and improvement in such programs, but our trusted Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyers know that until there are no cases of harassment, there is always room for improvement.

Because businesses and agencies often want to minimize damage to reputation as well as costs, even those with good intentions might not be prioritizing your well-being and safety. That is why it is critical that you speak to a skilled employment attorney, like those on our legal team. We will use our experience and knowledge to work for you and put your best interests above those of your employer.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.

Additional Resources:

Moving Toward a Shared Understanding of Sexual Harassment, May 2018, U.S. Merit Systems Protections Board

More Blog Entries:

Looking at Sexual Harassment Policies of State Legislatures, Feb. 10, 2018, L.A. Sexual Harassment Attorney Blog

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