INDIANAPOLIS — Governor Eric Holcomb is responding to a Call 6 Investigation that found the number of workplace harassment claims among state workers doubled from 2017 to 2018.
“As odd as it may sound, this is something I predicted may happen because we were increasing the awareness and trying to change the culture to make sure that people felt not just empowered but encouraged to report,” said Holcomb in a one-on-one interview with Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney.
“(Employees) understood when there’s zero tolerance for sexual harassment on my watch in this state government, that meant something for all 30,000 employees,” Holcomb said. “I said ‘look, this may go up before it goes down because people are feeling more comfortable.’”
Call 6 Investigates found since Jan. 2016, state employees have filed 383 claims to the State Personnel Department regarding workplace harassment and of those, SPD found inappropriate behavior in 55 percent of the claims.
• 2016: 86 claims, 46 with some finding of inappropriate behavior.
• 2017: 98 claims, 53 with some finding of inappropriate behavior.
• 2018: 199 claims, 110 with some finding of inappropriate behavior.
Much like other workplaces, Indiana state government has a workplace harassment prevention policy in place to protect workers, which says the state will not tolerate workplace harassment.
At least one lawmaker called for the governor’s office to review its policy to determine whether it is working or not.
Call 6: Do you feel like the policy is being followed?
Governor: I do, I do think the policy is being followed, and it will be continued to be followed until the very end.
Call 6: Do you feel like any changes need to happen?
Governor: No, the changes that need to happen come from the individuals who feel like they’ve been wronged. They need to understand that we’re not going to tolerate it, but they don’t need to tolerate it either, and they need to step forward and the process will play out.
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.
Holcomb told Call 6 Investigates the process is working.
“If you get a bad apple and someone gets out of line, we’ve got to correct that and correct it ASAP, and that’s what I think is occurring,” Holcomb said. “That’s why I think the numbers have gone up because people have said ‘this guy is serious.’”
State employees must complete an annual workplace harassment training.
State Personnel spokesperson Carlo Bertolini provided a statement to RTV6 outlining what the state is doing to prevent workplace harassment:
Last year, the state comprehensively enhanced its recurrent, mandatory training about workplace harassment. To update our harassment-prevention program we involved all State agencies, from agency heads to frontline employees who volunteered to share their views as part of the new content. This more inclusive philosophy was a major advancement from the lecture-driven, compliance-only approach traditionally required across the HR industry. We believe when workers hear from real employees and State leadership, they are more engaged by the messaging and more receptive to expectations of civility. The State’s harassment training doesn’t just address bad behavior. It also encourages employees to report such behavior and educates them about the many ways they can do so. This includes bystander reporting. By stressing that anyone can speak out against inappropriate behavior, we’ve made great strides in promoting a positive reporting culture built on civility. Additionally, we engaged all of our agency leaders in roundtable-style harassment discussions, which they in turn facilitated with their leadership teams and HR. We believe that by setting the tone at the top, we can create the culture of civility that we expect at the State. The Indiana State Personnel Department will maintain its regular review of the State’s mandatory Preventing Workplace & Sexual Harassment training content to ensure continued relevancy and effectiveness.
Holcomb hopes the “zero tolerance” culture will continue to spread among employees.
“I suspect that this will be infectious,” Holcomb said. “People realize ‘I’m not going there, I can’t go there, because if I do, I’m going to be held out and I’m going to be held accountable for my actions.’”
Shandi Donald, a wife and mother, was one of the 199 workers who filed a workplace harassment complaint in 2018.
She quit her job in June 2016 with the state after Donald said an agency chief of staff repeatedly made inappropriate comments.
Donald provided emails to RTV6 that showed state personnel encouraged her to apply for different jobs within state government.
“I think that sends a message that ‘how about you hush, and we will just remove you from the situation,’” Donald said. “It made me feel small.”
Donald’s alleged harasser kept his job for 11 months after her complaint until he retired.
Donald said the state needs to evaluate whether the current policy is being enforced.
“If you have policies that are supposed to be followed then you need to follow them,” Donald said. “It needs to be followed by every agency no matter what position that person is in."
The Indiana State Personnel Department has declined on-camera interview requests from Call 6 Investigates, referring RTV6 to Holcomb’s office.
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