Workplace Conduct Memo from the Deputy Secretary

Last edited 09/29/2021

To: All Department of the Interior Employees

From: Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor

Subject: Workplace Conduct

The Department of the Interior is committed to creating an inclusive and respectful workplace that serves the American public. As the Secretary stated in her June 15, 2016, all employee e-mail, as well as her September 14, 2016, Policy on Equal Opportunity and Workplace Conduct, the Department expects a workplace that is free of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, and where everyone is treated with civility. 

The Department is made up of hard-working individuals who understand that discrimination, harassment, and retaliation is completely out of line with our values. However we have seen examples of unacceptable behavior by specific individuals. The Secretary and I remain troubled by these actions and want to re-emphasize that we will not tolerate these types of behaviors. If the Department determines that discrimination, harassment, or retaliation occurred, immediate and appropriate corrective action must be taken.

To help employees avoid actions and/or statements considered inappropriate, it is important to fully understand what we mean when we identify these behaviors.

  • Discrimination: The differential treatment of an individual or group of people based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), age, marital and parental status, disability, sexual orientation, or genetic information.
  • Harassment: Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or the conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. “Sexual” harassment is a particular type of harassment that includes unwelcome conduct such as sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or dates, remarks about an individual’s appearance, discussions, remarks, or jokes of a sexual nature, and/or other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. A type of discriminatory behavior where an individual is subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct that is so objectively offensive as to alter the victim’s terms and conditions of employment. The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
  • Retaliation: Taking an action that might deter a reasonable person from participating in activity protected by antidiscrimination and/or whistleblower laws. Protected activity includes: complaining about discriminatory or harassing behavior; disclosing/reporting violations of law, rule, or procedure or fraud, waste, or abuse; and participating in discrimination or whistleblower proceedings. A type of discriminatory behavior where individuals are subjected to such actions as firing, being demoted, harassed, or otherwise “retaliated" against due to their having either filed a charge of discrimination, complained to their employer about a discriminating activity, or participated in an employment discrimination proceeding (such as an investigation or lawsuit). Retaliatory actions are not limited to formal personnel actions such as termination, demotion, non-promotion, or  non-selection. Retaliatory actions are broadly defined to harassing behavior, significant changes to job duties or working conditions, and even threats to take personnel actions.

No employee should be subjected to intimidating, hostile, or offensive behavior.  If an employee believes they are subject to discrimination or harassment based upon discrimination she/he should report it promptly to their servicing Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Office. Employees who believe they have been harassed or retaliated against should report it promptly to the immediate supervisor, an appropriate management official, the Inspector General’s Office, or the servicing EEO Office or Human Resources Office. 

The following is a list of resources within the Department that are available to support employees and managers.

  • The Office of Civil Rights performs all functions relating to civil rights, equal opportunity programs, and affirmative employment in the Department including investigation of allegations of discrimination for Office of the Secretary employees. The Office of Civil Rights can also assist in identifying your servicing EEO office.
  • The Office of Inspector General provides independent oversight and promotes excellence, integrity, and accountability within the programs, operations, and management of the Department. The Office of the Inspector General has an anonymous toll free hotline available to employees to report allegations of waste, fraud, or abuse.
  • The Office of Human Resources performs employee relations functions, as well as overseeing the Department’s occupational health and safety programs, and violence in the workplace functions. The Office of Human Resources can also assist in identifying your servicing HR office.
  • The Departmental Ethics Office provides advice and counsel on a wide variety of ethics-related issues, including misuse of position and government resources.
  • The Office of the Solicitor performs legal work for the Department, including the management of the Department’s Ethics Office.
  • The Office of Collaborative Action and Dispute Resolution offers a safe, confidential place to discuss any and all workplace concerns through its ombuds services.  In addition, with its mediation and facilitation services, CADR helps employees address conflicts they find difficult to resolve.
  • The Employee Assistance Program provides professional, confidential counseling and consultation that can help you resolve a wide range of personal and work/life issues.  The Employee Assistance Program professionals are conveniently located throughout the country, and can assist in identifying and clarifying your concerns, examine your options, and develop a plan of action to create solutions.

Other options that are available to employees may include union representatives (for those members of a Collective Bargaining Unit) and bureau specific Ombuds (for those in bureaus in which an Organizational Ombuds program already exists).  To assist employees and managers in identifying policies and resources related to discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, the Department has created an intranet site open to serve as a clearinghouse of relevant information. This site will be updated periodically and can be found here.

Managers who have been alerted to an allegation of harassment should work with their Human Resources Office and the Solicitor’s Office to investigate such matters. The Department is already developing a new contracting mechanism to support independent investigation of harassment allegations. We expect this contract to be in place in the fall of 2016.  

As the Secretary mentioned, over the next few months, you will see many things happening at the Department as we look to improve the culture in our workplace. Our current efforts are designed to support our employees and managers as we continue to instill and support a culture that does not tolerate incidents of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. In the coming weeks, we will be convening career SES leaders from across the Department to further discuss measures to implement and institutionalize the Policy on Equal Opportunity and Workplace Conduct.

As we further implement these initiatives, I look forward to providing you with updates regarding our progress.

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