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5:59 PM Tue, Jan. 22nd

Sexual harassment in government: No touching, inappropriate comments, jokes, or posters

What happens if…?

Yavapai County Human Resources manager Esther Hunt and Director of Human Resources and Risk Management Wendy Ross show one of the initial steps when investigating a sexual harrasment complaint is to read the initial claim report to determine what steps to take from there. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Yavapai County Human Resources manager Esther Hunt and Director of Human Resources and Risk Management Wendy Ross show one of the initial steps when investigating a sexual harrasment complaint is to read the initial claim report to determine what steps to take from there. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

What constitutes sexual harassment?

Touching, unwelcome hugging or kissing, pinching or other inappropriate or rebuffed physical contact.

Sexual comments or innuendos.

Use of vulgarity or profanity.

Insulting sounds, remarks, leering, obscene gestures, catcalls, smacking or kissing noises.

Sexually-oriented remarks, gestures or jokes.

Sexual displays such as posters, signs, photos or drawings.

Writing or calling a person a sexualized name if it is known, or should be known, that the person does not welcome such behavior.

Continuing to ask an employee to socialize on or off duty when that person has indicated he/she is not interested.

Harassing behavior toward a person based on his or her sex or sexual orientation.

Sexual teasing or horseplay.

An employee makes a lewd comment to a coworker. His or her gender doesn’t matter, nor the gender of the person on the receiving end.

What does matter is whether the behavior is unwanted and constitutes harassment; whether a complaint is made or investigated; and what, if anything, happens next when the complaint is verified.

That is the underlying theme of the #MeToo movement in which women and men nationwide have spoken up about harassment — not only sexual. Following is an analysis of Prescott-area governments and their policies. Victims whom The Daily Courier spoke with were granted anonymity.

City of Prescott

Most municipalities have policies that outline what harassment is, and they all have mandatory training on the issue. The City of Prescott, for instance, has conducted classes since last fall.

“We have been proactive in doing harassment training starting in October 2017,” said Community Outreach Manager John Heiney. “It’s given to management all the way down, and also to council members.”

The city has not had any claims in the past year, he said, adding that the Human Resources director indicated there were no substantiated claims.

“Cities have to report substantiated claims to their insurance company for liability reasons. We’ve had none that have reached that threshold in the last 10 years,” Heiney said.

Most municipalities’ harassment policies outline how a victim makes a report and possible disciplinary consequences for the harasser.

What to do

Prescott’s reporting policy states the victim should politely and firmly confront the harasser and tell the person to stop. Report the conduct to a supervisor, or if uncomfortable for any reason, report it to the department head or HR. Written or recorded complaints should include details such as dates, behavior, witnesses, etc.

If victims feel submission to harassing conduct would impact employment, performance reviews or the work environment, they are encouraged to speak to HR and/or file a complaint.

Investigations are kept as confidential as possible, and retaliation for reporting or assisting in the investigation is not tolerated. Lack of cooperation by witnesses may result in disciplinary action.

One victim, who was working for a local municipality, did go to her supervisor, whom she felt listened and would support her. In a group setting that followed, the harasser continued his verbal abuse and no one challenged his behavior or spoke up on her behalf.

Had she known this would happen, she said, and there would be subsequent retaliation, she would have bided her time until retirement like so many of her colleagues do. Instead, she quit. Years later now, she’s not the same person.

“I lay low, dig deep, and don’t pop my head out. My whole lifestyle has changed,” she said.

For a variety of reasons, victims are loathe to speak out. Sometimes there’s legal action pending, or fear of retaliation inside or outside the place of employment. Every decision to leave is based on different circumstances.

Another former government employee told the Courier it would not be in their best interest nor that of their family’s to speak about the decision to leave and the circumstances for their departure.

A third was the accused and declined to answer questions, not wanting to dredge up the charges or consequences. Disciplinary measures for inappropriate conduct may range from verbal warnings and mandatory training to suspensions with or without pay, and termination.

Local governments

According to Prescott Valley’s HR Director, Karen Smith, the department has investigated four cases of sexual harassment in the past seven years. In all four cases the offender was a man and the victim was a woman. Three of the four offenders were in a leadership or direct supervisory role over the victim.

In all four cases, the offender was disciplined; two were terminated, one was given a permanent reduction in pay, and one served an unpaid suspension.

In the case of termination, a supervisor failed to report — and was not truthful during the investigation — a consensual dating relationship with an employee under his direct authority. In the case of reduction in pay, an employee could feel the effects for years.

Misusing, making false or frivolous charges also may result in disciplinary action against the accuser including termination. This does not refer to complaints made in good faith but which cannot be proven.

Lauren Kyriakakis, HR director for the Town of Chino Valley, said its policy on harassment also includes conduct or behavior that impairs morale or interferes with the effectiveness of employees in performing their job duties. Kyriakakis said she has not been directly involved in any harassment complaints in the past five to 10 years.

Every third year, Yavapai County employees receive training on harassment, in addition to training on the first day on the job.

“As far as trends of complaints over the past five to 10 years, I can say that it’s been fairly consistent with about one or two investigations per year,” said HR Director Wendy Ross.

Details of those were unavailable because of privacy and other issues.

HR staff will investigate the legitimacy and severity of complaints, and bring in independent investigators if appropriate. Sometimes the conduct violates county policy because it is unprofessional or otherwise offensive, but doesn’t consist of unlawful sexual harassment.

Making the rounds on social media are six short films describing harassment in the workplace — with a boss, coworker, doctor, politician, actor and photographer. They can be found on Facebook or YouTube under “ThatsHarassment” or this link: