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Workplace harassment claims drop among Indiana state workers

Expert points to working from home as factor
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Posted at 7:26 AM, Apr 09, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — New numbers show a significant drop in workplace harassment complaints among Indiana state workers.

In 2018, state employees filed 199 workplace harassment claims and in 2019, 269 workplace harassment complaints were filed.

In 2020, state workers filed 185 complaints, and the state found inappropriate behavior in 52% of those claims.

  • 2018: 199 claims, 110 with some finding of inappropriate behavior.
  • 2019: 269 claims, 127 with some finding of inappropriate behavior
  • 2020: 185 claims, 96 complaints with some finding of inappropriate behavior
  • 2021 (First Quarter): 44 claims, 15 with some finding of inappropriate behavior

Eric Burch, communications director at the Indiana State Personnel Department, told WRTV that a substantiated complaint indicates a finding that there was some type of inappropriate behavior, although not necessarily the originally alleged behavior.

Much like other workplaces, Indiana state government has a workplace harassment prevention policy in place to protect workers.

“The State will not tolerate workplace harassment, whether engaged in by fellow employees, supervisors, officers, or by outside clients or other non-employees who conduct business with the State,” read the state’s policy. “The State encourages reporting of all incidences of alleged harassment, regardless of who the offender may be or the offender’s status.”

Dr. Mahri Irvine, an expert on sexual violence and former director of campus initiatives at the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault, said workplace harassment can be sexual harassment or something else entirely.

"Workplace harassment is a form of discrimination,” Irvine said. "It can also be racial harassment or harassment or any type of protected class like sex, gender identity, race, age, physical disability, nationality or religion."

Irvine said the decrease in workplace harassment complaints is likely due to many state workers working remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If people are working from home, suddenly they're not having to deal with those colleagues anymore,” Irvine said. “When we think about the impact of harassment on employee morale, that is certainly a reason why some people are reporting they work better and more efficiently when they were able to work remotely because they weren't in the office every day."

The State Personnel Department said it has no data to support a direct correlation between working from home and a decrease in workplace harassment complaints.

Perpetrators of workplace harassment can face discipline including dismissal from employment, according to the state’s policy.

In 2019, WRTV Investigates told you about workplace harassment in state government.

PREVIOUS | Governor explains workplace harassment numbers

Former state worker Shandi Donald told us the problem was rampant.

"If you have policies that are supposed to be followed then you need to follow them,” Donald said in 2019.

The Indiana State Personnel Department investigates all complaints they receive, but the findings are not public record unless a worker is suspended, demoted or terminated.

What’s not public record is when an employee is disciplined in another way, such as being counseled for inappropriate behavior.

Irvine said it’s important for institutions to appropriately handle workplace harassment for many reasons, including that it can impact an employee’s productivity, job performance and health.

"It has such a profound impact on people's lives,” Irvine said. “Workplace harassment can really detrimentally impact their physical health or their mental health. There are studies that show workplace harassment contributes to people having cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure."

The state’s policy also prohibits retaliating against employees who report harassment.

“Retaliation is a serious violation of this policy and should be reported immediately,” read the policy. “Any person found to have engaged in misconduct constituting retaliation against another individual for the good faith reporting of harassment may be disciplined up to and including dismissal from employment.”

If you feel you are being a victim of workplace harassment here’s what you can do:

  • Don’t ignore the harassment
  • Tell the accuser the conduct is unwelcome
  • Keep careful notes on what happened
  • Document everything — in emails if you can, versus on the phone
  • Review your company’s policies
  • Report the conduct, but know anything you report to human resources can be shared with others