Merit Systems Protection Board Sexual Harassment Survey

Since 1980, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has conducted surveys regarding the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment. Based on the studies published in 1988 and 1994, there were not any major changes in the frequency of sexual harassment reported by federal employees. The MSPB continues to conduct these surveys, which is particularly illuminating in the wake of the Me Too movement. In the most recent issuance of the Merit Principles Survey, in 2016, the data indicates that, while employees still reported sexual harassment, the rate of these occurrences has dropped. However, there are still efforts to be made for the prevention and reporting of these incidents.

The survey polls federal employees on their experiences with eight different types of sexual harassment, including “unwelcome invasion of personal space” and “pressure for dates.” These criteria have remained the same between the 1994 and 2016 surveys in order to directly compare the gathered information. Both male and female employees cited decreases in these types of behavior between the 1994 survey and the 2016 survey, although the data indicates that women are still “more than three times as likely as men to say that they have experienced one or more sexual harassment behaviors.”

In the 1994 survey, 19% of men and 44% of women reported at least one occasion of sexual harassment in the preceding two years. The 2016 survey indicated 6% and 18%, respectively. The MSPB attributes these changes to “greater employee awareness of behaviors that could constitute sexual harassment.”

Despite the lowering percentages for incidents of sexual harassment, the survey included data regarding federal employees’ thoughts on the effectiveness of reporting such incidents. Out of the employees who experienced any form of sexual harassment, the MSPB reports that only 11% went on to file a formal complaint and only “8% of the employees believes that correction action was taken against the harasser(s).” More common responses included ignoring the incidents of harassment, asking for the harassment to stop, or changing jobs.

The MSPB’s survey identifies that, while sexual harassment of federal employees is occurring at a lower rate, it is still occurring, and the response to that harassment may not be strong enough. Issues of sexual harassment have recently been brought to the forefront by the Me Too movement, bills such as the one created by Kirsten Gillibrand that aim to hold sexual harassers accountable, and now the Merit Principles Survey.

In an effort to further protect federal workplaces from harassing behavior, the MSPB plans on expanding its survey in future iterations to “delve further into the types and frequency of sexual harassment behaviors, risk factors that appear to increase one’s likelihood for being exposed to harassment, as well as strategies for preventing and addressing sexual harassment.”

If you are a federal employee who has suffered sexual harassment in the workplace, do not hesitate to schedule a consultation with a federal employment attorney to discuss your rights.