TDCJ’s policy for sexual harassment: Zero Tolerance
TDCJ’s policy regarding sexual harassment and retaliation fills nearly eight pages. But it can be summed up in just two words: zero tolerance.
The policy Personnel Directive 13 reads in part: The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has a zero tolerance policy for all forms of unlawful gender discrimination, to include sexual harassment. In order to prevent sexual harassment, the agency also prohibits discourteous conduct of a sexual nature that a reasonable person would find offensive or which is known to be unwelcome to the person against whom it is directed. Agency supervisors and other employees are prohibited from subjecting any employee or other individual to sexual harassment or discourteous conduct of a sexual nature. Retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint is also prohibited.
Unconditional support for the policy starts at the top of the agency.
“I have zero tolerance for illegal discrimination, harassment, retaliation or intimidation,” TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston states in a videotaped message that all employees are required to view. “You are expected to adopt this policy as your own while you are a TDCJ employee. If you want to avoid disciplinary action, keep your actions and your language respectable and professional. No one in this agency, including myself, is so valuable that unacceptable and illegal behavior will be overlooked. Do not bring sexual behavior, talk or attitudes to the workplace, period.”
Sexual harassment can start out as something as simple as a flirtatious wink from a co-worker. But in the blink of an eye, that wink can turn into a sexually suggestive stare that the victim finds both personally and professionally offensive. By policy, the offended employee is obligated to report the behavior so that the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity Section can determine if it amounts to sexual harassment. Employees can report such behavior directly to Human Resources Intake during regular workweek business hours at (936) 437- 4240. An intake specialist can be reached by pager on weekends and holidays at (936) 436-5306.
“We want an allegation of discrimination to come to us, and once it does, we look into it and give each case specific attention,” said Larry Myers, director of Employee Relations section of TDCJ’s Human Resources Division. “It is our responsibility to determine whether or not it is a violation of the law or agency policy.”
In fiscal year 2003, 444 complaints alleging discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information were received internally or through an external source such as the Civil Rights Division of the Texas Workforce Commission or the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last fiscal year, TDCJ employees filed 360 such complaints.
Human Resources Division Director Carol Johnston said that approximately 75 percent of the complaints alleging discrimination fall into the sexual harassment category on average.
Whether a co-worker’s behavior amounts to sexual harassment depends in large part on the pervasiveness and frequency of the actions. Policy states that sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature when the conduct is sufficiently pervasive or severe that it has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating a work environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile or offense. It goes on to say that an allegation of sexual harassment may be warranted when submission to the offensive conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or submission to or rejection of the conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting the individual reporting the conduct.
A finding of sexual harassment results in a recommendation for termination of a violator’s employment with TDCJ. A lesser finding of discourteous conduct of a sexual nature a violation of Rule 50 of the Employee General Rules of Conduct and Disciplinary Violations - is a Level 2 offense punishable by sanctions that include reprimand, disciplinary probation, suspension, reduction in pay and/or demotion.
Johnston and Myers said Rule 50 serves to prevent offensive behavior from escalating into sexual harassment.
“It protects the complainant and it could potentially salvage the respondent from being separated from employment,” Johnston said. “And it limits the liability of the agency from future findings of sexual harassment.”
It is also important to remember that behavior considered flirtation by one individual can be a violation of rule 50 if the target of the flirtation finds it offensive.
“It’s a slippery slope,” Myers said about flirting among co-workers. “But you still have human nature in the workplace and you still have to deal with human nature.”
“From my perspective, a flirtation with a subordinate is wrong,” Johnston added. “That can always lead to other behaviors that can end up causing problems in the workplace. It can evolve into harassment.”
TDCJ makes the zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment clear to employees from day they are hired. In addition to the executive director’s videotaped message, the policy is included in the information packet all newly hired or rehired employees receive. The policy is published in the Agency Personnel Manuel and is accessible by way of the agency’s mainframe reporting system (Infopac) and web site. Sexual harassment is also a training topic through the Human Resources Staff Development department.
Johnston said employees can always be cordial and friendly with co-workers without being offensive.
“I don’t think being pleasant with a co-worker is flirtation,” she said. “Being professional and respectful to co-workers would be the most prudent way to act on a daily basis. Before you tell a joke, think about that joke. There are a lot of jokes that are not appropriate in the workplace. There’s a lot of people who don’t really think about that until someone confronts them.”
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