Leadership Corner

Anti-Harassment Program Reforms

May 10th, 2019 at 10:53AM
Protrait photo of Leslie Weldon. U.S and Forest Service glags in the background
Leslie Weldon, Senior Executive for Work Environment and Performance, USDA Forest Service

Living our core values takes work. Anchoring to our core values of service, conservation, interdependence, diversity and safety strengthens our mission success and helps create a work environment that is free from harassment, bullying, and retaliation of any kind. The Forest Service is continuing to explore and build the connections between our mission success and work environment. We continue to learn and improve.

The Harassment Reporting Center (internal link) was established more than a year ago to improve service to those reporting harassment. I appreciate all of the comments we received over the past year. All of your input helped identify what was working well and where there was a need for adjustments and improvements. As we implement changes, your feedback will be critical to ensuring we continue to learn and adjust as necessary.  

Based on what we have learned, we still need to improve the overall timeliness of processing anti-harassment reports. Toward that end, we have hired a contractor with greater capacity to conduct inquiries and investigations in less time. We have also learned that only about 25 percent of the more than 1,600 incidents reported to the Harassment Reporting Center so far have required disciplinary action to be taken. The remaining 75 percent did not find substantiated misconduct, but they still involved conflicts, misunderstandings, disrespect, gossip, or other behaviors that adversely affected our employees and their work. We have learned that “Finding of no misconduct” is not satisfying to employees and additional attention is needed to address the concerns of employees.  

We initially set up the Harassment Reporting Center so that reports of any kind would go through the same structured process. While that has provided consistency, we have learned it has, at the same time, impeded our ability in many cases to quickly resolve employees’ concerns in a less formal manner. We are therefore changing our processes so that managers can more quickly resolve conflicts at the lowest possible level. The changes are rolling out in three phases:

Phase I— Case managers are now evaluating every new report and assessing whether it could meet the definition of harassment. If so, then the incident will go through a structured process of inquiry or investigation. If not, then the incident will now be referred to the appropriate local leadership, who will work with the employees involved to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, with guidance from the case managers and assistance from the Conflict Management and Prevention Center and other resources. If the local manager is part of the incident, an alternative leader will be identified to assist.

Phase II—The Harassment Reporting Center will soon add Case Management Liaisons (contract) to keep affected employees informed throughout the process. These Liaisons will give affected individuals information on the inquiry and investigation procedures and timelines as well as other resources that may help to address their concerns. The liaisons will be the primary points of contact for affected individuals to get updates on the status of their pending cases. Employees will also have access to a guide that explains the revised Anti-Harassment Program and the other available resources.

Phase III—The Anti-Harassment Program (case managers, Harassment Reporting Center, and HART inquiries) will transition from Human Resources Management to the Work Environment and Performance Office by about June 1, 2019. A new Anti-Harassment Policy reflecting the changes will be issued by the end of September. This change will enable HRM to focus more strongly on Employee Relations responsibilities as well as increasing the Work Environment and Performance Office ability to focus attention on the needs of employees.

I am personally committed to creating a work environment characterized by mutual trust, valuing difference and inclusion, listening to understand, and learning from each other. A sound Anti-Harassment Policy and an effective Anti-Harassment Program are cornerstones for upholding this commitment and influencing Forest Service work culture. Jeffrey Patterson, Branch Chief for the Anti-Harassment Program is available to answer questions you have about these changes.  

Improving our work culture and the quality of our work environment is mission-critical work, as important as everything else we do. Every day I learn more about the great work being done across the agency to advance this work. I am grateful for all you are doing and I look forward to advancing this work with all of you.