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Prevention of Sexual Harassment

Characteristics of Harassment

Harassment is a form of discrimination and is a violation of law and policy. Harassment is defined as:

  • unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (regardless of whether it is of a sexual nature), sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, or retaliation that is sufficient to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment
  • conduct when the submission or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment related decisions or actions; and
  • conduct that has the intent or effect of unreasonably interfering with one’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment (also known as a hostile work environment).
  • petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) do not rise to the level of prohibited harassment. To constitute harassment, the conduct must create a work environment that would be hostile or offensive to a reasonable person. Examples of behavior that may constitute harassment include:
    • racial or ethnic jokes or slurs;
    • pictures, objects, or graphic material containing offensive content;
    • threatening words or gestures directed at a person because of his or her membership in a protected class;
    • obscene, vulgar, or abusive language;
    • notes or e–mails containing slurs, jokes, or abusive language;
    • stalking (waiting for the employee in the parking lot; hanging out near an employee’s home)
    • physical assault, such as twisting a co–worker’s arm, brushing a hand across their buttocks 

Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment exists when unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race, or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Anyone in the workplace might commit this type of harassment — a management official, co–worker, non–employee such as a contractor, vendor, or guest. The victim can be anyone affected by the conduct, not just the individual at whom the offensive conduct is directed.

Characteristics of Sexual Harassment

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when one of the three following circumstances is true:

  • Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a condition of successful and/or continued participation in a training program or employment
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an employee is used as the basis for advancement decisions affecting the employee
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the trainee’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.  Behavior constituting sexual harassment falls into three categories.

  • Verbal
  • Non–verbal
  • Physical 

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of harassment that constitutes sex discrimination. It can occur in a variety of circumstances, including the following situations:

• The harasser can be a man or a woman. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.

• The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co–worker, or a non–employee.

• The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone offended by the offensive conduct.

• Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.

• The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome and/or unwanted.

• The harassment does not necessarily result in economic injury to or discharge of the victim.

 

Verbal Sexual Harassment

  • Sexual innuendoes
  • Suggestive remarks or whistling
  • Pressure for dates
  • Sexist remarks
  • Sexual propositions 

Non–verbal Sexual Harassment

  • Suggestive or insulting sounds
  • Leering, staring, or ogling
  • Obscene gestures
  • Obscene/graphic materials
  • Written sexual jokes 

Physical Sexual Harassment

  • Touching
  • Pinching
  • Brushing up against someone intentionally
  • Cornering
  • Hugging
  • Assault/rape 

Addressing Harassment in the Workplace

You are not required to have a witness to the offensive conduct before you can report it to a supervisor or management official. However, mere observance of behavior alone may not state an independent claim of harassment. If you are a victim of sexual or workplace harassment, follow these procedures:

  • Tell the harasser that the behavior is unwelcome and must stop.
  • Keep a record of any instances of harassment and follow–up actions.
  • Ask co–workers if they observed the behavior.
  • Tell your supervisor, someone else in your chain of command, or another manager about the incident.
  • If the harasser is your supervisor, inform a higher–level supervisor.
  • If you are a VA employee, you have the right to contact an EEO counselor at the Agency’s Office of Resolution Management (ORM) to file a complaint. You must initiate contact with an ORM EEO Counselor within 45 days of the date of the incident.

 

All VA facilities have an EEO Manager who is available to answer questions about the complaint process or address grievances. Disclosures of workplace harassment may also constitute disclosure of abuse of authority under whistleblowing.

 

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