N.C. agencies to review sexual harassment policies

As awareness of sexual harassment issues in politics grows, state government agencies are taking a look at their policies to see if they’re comprehensive enough. North Carolina’s Office of State Human Resources has an “unlawful workplace harassment” policy that many state agencies abide by, but some are reaching out to their employees to see if anything needs to be changed.

RELATED: N.C. General Assembly not immune to sexual harassment concerns

In late November, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson sent out an email to superintendents and principals, as well as his colleagues, concerning the Department of Instruction’s sexual harassment policy. In his email he said: “While our nation is engaged in an ongoing conversation about sexual harassment, I want to reiterate that unwelcomed and unsolicited sexual speech or conduct is strictly prohibited at NCDPI and will not be tolerated. At my direction, my Chief Legal Counsel and DPI’s Human Resources Director have reviewed DPI’s current sexual harassment policies, and we believe the existing policies could be better written so that DPI personnel have clear guidance on how to report issues.”

His email continues: “We are working with DPI’s HR office to update the unlawful workplace harassment policy and prevention plan to better clarify the process for employees seeking to report issues. … It is important that we continue to work together to create an environment at DPI that serves as an example for our districts, educators, and students throughout North Carolina. A safe and healthy environment for all employees enables all of us to perform at our best.”

DPI isn’t the only agency taking a proactive look at its policies. Ford Porter, spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper, said the governor has “directed the Office of State Human Resources to review policies currently in place regarding workplace harassment and develop further strategies to prevent harassment in state offices.” “The recent stories of workplace harassment across the nation have been alarming and every employer should take steps to prevent unprofessional behavior and ensure that people feel comfortable at work,” Porter said. “Agencies review policies during orientation, and training opportunities are available to employees on how to prevent and report workplace harassment, including sexual harassment.”

Some of the agencies — like the lieutenant governor’s office, the Department of Labor and the Department of Insurance — don’t have an additional workplace harassment protocol beyond the OSHR’s unlawful workplace harassment policy. Others are thinking about having additional policies to supplement the OSHR policy. Laura Brewer, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said “[s]exual harassment has no place at the Department of Justice,” as outlined in the OSHR policy, but “we are currently reviewing this policy and considering adding an additional, DOJ-specific policy to strengthen sexual harassment protections.”

The Office of the State Auditor and Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have their own additional policies. A spokesperson for the Office of the State Auditor said the sexual harassment policy is reviewed annually, toward the end of the year. The last update was on Dec. 22, 2016. The Department of State Treasurer is also in the process of updating its policies.

The Department of the Secretary of State also uses the OSHR policy, but then adds specific information relating to the department. A spokesperson for the department said the human resources director is reviewing the policies, and that the department also does an annual review of the department’s equal employment opportunity plan.

This article originally appeared in The Insider on December 13, 2017. To learn more about The Insider and coverage of public policy in North Carolina, visit NCInsider.com.