More than a third of National Park Service employees harassed at work; Zinke calls for accountability, transparency

Images courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Federal officials on Friday released the results of a survey in which 39 percent of National Park Service employees said they had experienced harassment or discrimination on the job, then vowed to take immediate action to deal with the problem.

“From day one, I made it clear that I have zero tolerance for harassment in the workplace, and I directed leadership in the National Park Service to move rapidly to improve accountability and transparency,” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said. “All employees have the right to work in an environment that is safe and harassment-free.

“I’ve removed a number of people who were abusive or acted improperly that other administrations were too afraid to or just turned a blind eye to. Under my leadership, we’re going to hold people accountable. We are also fixing the problem of victims being afraid of retaliation or inaction by codifying the right for victims to report abuse to any manager in any location across the service, and by bringing on an independent, investigative partner.”

The NPS Work Environment Survey found that 10.4 percent of NPS employees experienced sexual harassment in the last 12 months, 19.3 percent experienced gender harassment and about 1 percent reported experiencing sexual assault, according to a statement issued by the Department of the Interior.

The survey also looked at harassment more broadly, measuring it based on age, race or ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation and sexual assault. Overall, 38.7 percent of employees reported experiencing some form of harassment in the last 12 months and survey results indicate many experienced some form of harassment prior to the last 12 months.

“Harassment has no place in the National Park Service, and our leadership is committed to a new approach to harassment that emphasizes accountability and respect in the workplace,” acting Director of the National Park Service Mike Reynolds said.

“We believe that a multi-disciplinary approach that includes policy change, consistent discipline, training and employee empowerment will reduce harassment and respond quickly when it is identified. We are directly engaging with employees at all levels of the organization to ensure that this action plan meets their needs and is effective on the ground.”

Along with the release of the survey, the agency outlined a series of action items to increase accountability and respond to harassment across the organization, according to the Interior Department statement. The NPS is:

  • Implementing a new, fully accountable system that will efficiently review allegations of harassment. The NPS anti-harassment policy has been strengthened by defining more broadly what would be prohibited harassing conduct to ensure that employees can be held accountable for harassing conduct even if such behavior may not rise to the level of illegal harassment under Equal Employment Opportunity laws.
  • Increasing its employee relations and labor relations staff by 10 and the ethics staff by four to improve the capacity to efficiently investigate and resolve allegations and incidents of harassment.
  • Prioritizing learning and performance support options to empower employees, supervisors and managers with the knowledge, skills and resources to help prevent harassment and improve work environments.
  • Developing additional job aids and resources for supervisors, improve internal communications structure, deploy a team of peer and professional facilitators, and continue to identify and tackle the root causes of harassment and hostile work environments.

The survey found that 74.7 percent of employees who experienced harassment did not file a report or complaint about the behavior. Of those who chose not to report, 45.9 percent thought nothing would be done if they filed a report or complaint, and 33 percent did not trust the process.

Consequently, the NPS plans to emphasize changes that will ensure timely, appropriate and decisive responses to allegations.

“Employees deserve better, and we will ensure that leadership at every level of the National Park Service is held accountable for ensuring that harassment claims are investigated, and appropriate discipline results when the evidence supports it,” Zinke said.

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One Comment

  1. And this is more important than thousands of US citizens who have been arrested on bogus charges and held in jail cells for YEARS, denying their ist and 2nd Amendment rights? At least these FEDERAL employees who endure harassment from superiors have the option of using available court action for redress. Mr. Zinke, you need a major change in priorities!

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