FAQs about sexual harassment as answered by Equal Opportunity Office

FAQs about sexual harassment as answered by Equal Opportunity Office

Q Why is sexual harassment a topic of concern?

A. The United States Air Force is a total force which includes both military and civilian employees, and the AF is committed to ensuring a safe and hostile free working environment for all AF members. It makes sense that Airmen will be most effective when they are working in an environment that promotes teamwork, equal opportunity and mutual respect. In general, sexual harassment has proven to be destructive and does not belong in the workplace. Therefore, the AF has made a strong commitment to prevent all forms of sexual harassment in a determined effort to protect our people, ensure military readiness and to fulfill our strategic mission.

Q. What is the definition of sexual harassment?

A. The definition of sexual harassment is, "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, when it implicitly or explicitly suggests that submission to or rejection of the conduct will be a factor in employment and the conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance and creates an intimidating and/or hostile working environment."

Unfortunately the definition of sexual harassment and what types of actions rise to the level of sexual harassment can be confusing. Determining what constitutes sexual harassment depends upon the specific facts, severity and the context in which the conduct occurs. If terms, conditions or the privileges of employment are affected by the inappropriate sexual harassment conduct, which created an abusive and hostile working environment, and the conduct is substantiated during an investigation, corrective action will be taken.

What is the Air Force policy on sexual harassment?

"Zero tolerance" on sexual harassment is the AF policy, which means any AF military member or civilian employee is entitled to work in an environment free from sexual harassment and employees do not have to tolerate such behavior. Employees are empowered to report inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment without fear of retaliation. Senior leaders are committed to ensure that harassment in any form is never tolerated.

Can friendly behavior rise to the level of sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment can take many forms and its determination will depend upon the circumstances. Affable behaviors, in some instances can "cross the line" and be construed as inappropriate and unprofessional behavior that could possibly lead to allegations of unlawful sexual harassment. It is the "impact" of the behavior and not just the "intent" that determines if sexual harassment has occurred. Demeaning sex- based comments, sexual gestures, offensive sexual jokes or stories, having sexually suggestive materials at the workplace and inappropriate touching are all examples of sexual harassment. Casual sexual joking or verbal sexual comments can be offensive; therefore, it's best and wise to keep sexual overtures out of the workplace. The AF "Core Values" must be carried out in the day-to-day actions. All personnel should actively put workplace professionalism as a top priority.

How does someone report sexual harassment at Hill Air Force Base?

If you believe sexual harassment is alive and present within your work environment, in whatever form, you are encouraged to report the condition through your chain-of-command. All commanders and senior leaders at Hill AFB are committed to address sexual harassment claims promptly and to proactively prevent inappropriate sexual conduct within all work areas. If you don't feel comfortable reporting it to your management and you want to obtain your Equal Opportunity rights, please feel free to contact the Hill AFB Equal Opportunity Office, at 777-5455 or 777-4856 for assistance or visit them in Building 1294. The Equal Opportunity program fosters and supports equal opportunity for both military and civilian personnel. When requested and to the greatest extent possible, the EO staff will protect the confidentiality and identity of the individual who is bringing the unlawful sexual harassment complaint.

Civilian personnel who believe they have been subjected to unlawful discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability have the right to file an EEO administrative complaint IAW 29 Code of Federal Regulation 1614, within 45-calendar days from the date of the alleged incident.

Military personnel who believe they have been subjected to unlawful discrimination based on their race color, national origin, religion or sex can file an EO complaint within 60 days from the date of the alleged incident.

It is always encouraged to attempt resolution at the lowest possible level, but it's important to know you can report sexual harassment to the EO office for a prompt inquiry. If a supervisor is alleged to have engaged in offensive conduct, the report should be made promptly (to the next higher supervisor) through the chain-of-command and/or to the EO office. Failure to report, or any undue delay in reporting, may hinder the AF ability to prevent and correct unlawful behavior and may hinder EO regulatory timelines to file a complaint. The AF will not tolerate reprisal against any individual who engages in a protective activity such as the filing of an EO complaint. No person shall be subjected to retaliation for opposing an unlawful practice.

How does the Equal Opportunity Office assist with Sexual Harassment complaints and who do they service?

The EO office is a neutral entity and organizationally structured directly under the Ogden Air Logistics Center commander. Equal Opportunity personnel neither represent complainants nor do they advocate for management; they must maintain neutrality. The complainant is entitled to a personal representative of their choice during the EO process. The EO specialist/counselor assigned to the case will explain the employee's rights IAW 29 Code of Federal Regulation 1614; perform an inquiry into all reported sexual harassment allegations and work hand-in-hand with management to try and resolve the issue at the lowest level possible.

Under the antidiscrimination statutes, the processing of complaints is only one aspect of the EO office responsibilities. The EO program is established in an effort to eliminate discrimination, promote equal opportunity and to proactively engage in educating the workforce on all EO programs. The EO Office provides sexual harassment training and has developed sexual harassment informational pamphlets, which are available to all Hill AFB employees. These pamphlets are disseminated during all EO training sessions and are readily available in Building 1294.

The EO office serves all military, civilians (including nonappropriated funded, some tenants and outside applicants.

What do I need to know about sexual harassment?

The term sexual harassment is often misleading. The principle that must be kept in mind in dealing with sexual harassment cases is that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended, does not deal with sexual conduct. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on a person's gender. Sexual harassment is a form of sex- or gender-based discrimination. Sexual harassment is merely a subcategory of sex discrimination. Sexual harassment is illegal not because of the sexual nature of the conduct; it is illegal because it constitutes discrimination because of a person's gender. It is, however, the sexual nature of the conduct that distinguishes sexual harassment from gender-based harassment.

What can I do to help prevent sexual harassment in the workplace?

Share the information in this article with others who may not have an opportunity to read it. Be supportive of people who may be a victim of sexual harassment, and encourage them to take action by reporting the harassment through their chain-of-command. If you observe sexual harassment, do not be afraid to speak out.

If you feel you are a victim of sexual harassment, try and confront the harasser. Make it clear that his/her behavior is not welcomed and that you want it to stop. If you can't confront the harasser, report it to management and/or the EO Office. Above all, don't be forced into going along with the crowd and accepting sexual harassment. Sexual harassment infringes on the work environment, and the harassment denies co-workers the mutual respect needed for a healthy workplace.

Refrain from telling offensive sexual jokes or talking about sexual situations in the workplace. Although the person you are talking with may be tolerant of such conversation, your co-workers may not. Do not physically touch someone inappropriately and above all, try to be respectful to fellow employees.

What steps will management take when Sexual Harassment is reported and what actions can the complainant expect?

Management will take all allegations of sexual harassment seriously and will promptly, thoroughly and impartially perform an informal inquiry into allegations and complaints of sexual harassment.

Employees who report sexual harassment are entitled to nonattribution from both management and their co-workers. Employees are entitled to a prompt inquiry into the facts. Managers should contact their Employee Relations specialist or the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate for assistance. It is the manager's responsibility to take corrective action on all unlawful discrimination that is substantiated. Also, managers must provide the alleged victim the opportunity to contact the Equal Opportunity office within 45-calendar days from the date of the alleged incident. Managers and supervisors are the front line when it comes to managing our people. First and most importantly, the AF goal is to provide a workplace free from harassment. The AF depends on our managers and supervisors to take specific action in any particular case of inappropriate conduct, which may include intervention, investigation and the initiation of corrective action if the alleged sexual harassment is substantiated.

Managers are responsible to ensure all their employees are aware of the "Zero Tolerance" sexual harassment policy and will not retaliate against any individual who reports sexual harassment.

As a supervisor, what can I do to combat sexual harassment within the workplace?

Ensure the EO HILLAFBVA 36-5, 11 May 2009, is displayed on official bulletin boards. Hold staff meetings within your respective organizations and emphasize the AF "Zero Tolerance" policy on Sexual Harassment.

Supervisor's actions and or words are scrutinized by others on a daily basis. Therefore, without fail you must set the example and be a positive influence. The standard for a supervisor requires that every aspect of your relationship with your subordinates be professional and beyond reproach. As a leader you must constantly be vigilant in preventing situations or behaviors that present even the appearance or perception of impropriety.

The commander is relying on managers to assist in the prevention of sexual harassment. All managers have an obligation to ensure that AF policies are carried out and that they know they are responsible for the working conditions in which their employees work.

What is the difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault?

Sexual harassment and sexual assault have two separate and different definitions. Sexual assault is criminal conduct and is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent. Sexual assault includes rape, nonconsensual sex, unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact or attempts to commit these acts. For assistance, call Security Forces or the Hill AFB Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, 777-1964. The definition for sexual harassment is noted above; contact your chain-of-command or the Hill AFB Equal Opportunity Office, 777-5455, for assistance.

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