Zero tolerance is Air Force policy

  • Published
  • By Alma C. Birkel
  • Equal Employment Opportunity
Successful accomplishment of our Air Force mission depends on our most precious resource and valued commodity, our workforce. It's imperative we remove any barriers or obstacles that may impede their performance in accomplishing the mission. Diversity must also, be valued and we must respect our different backgrounds, cultures, gender and beliefs of each other. When the level of respect declines and inappropriate behavior enters, this is a concern for the well being of our workforce. Recent reports of inappropriate sexual conduct, has prompted this reminder that sexual harassment is against the law. Inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature not only offends, it diminishes human dignity. Hopefully, this article will assist you in translating the Air Force policy on sexual harassment and also inform you of ways you can be an integral part of a sound solution to prevent sexual harassment at Hill Air Force Base.

The Air Force policy is: "Any conduct that involves unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexual jokes or any other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for any Air Force employee will not be tolerated." It is imperative that everyone understands and abides by this zero tolerance policy at all times; and those who violate said policy, can expect to be dealt with in a swift and appropriate manner. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, prohibits unlawful employment practices that deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise "adversely affect his/her status as an employee." We must embrace and protect those rights of the people and ensure a working environment free of harassment and discrimination.

Despite the commander's involvement and equal opportunity education programs, people will occasionally behave inappropriately in the work place. It takes a strong continuing commitment by everyone to minimize these behaviors and their effects on our mission. Employees are responsible for their own behavior, so it's important to know and understand the Air Force policies. It's also important to strive for a more productive work atmosphere, by getting to know the people you work with and respect their individuality as they should yours. Treating everyone with respect and dignity is an absolute essential ingredient in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Unfortunately the definition of sexual harassment and what types of actions rise to the level of sexual harassment can be confusing. Determining what constitutes sexual harassment depends upon the specific facts and the context in which the conduct occurs. Sexual harassment may take many forms either subtle and indirect, or blatant and overt. It may be inappropriate sexual conduct toward an individual of the opposite sex or the same sex. It may occur between peers or between an individual and a management official. It may be aimed at coercing an individual to participate in an unwanted sexual relationship or it may have the affect of causing an individual to change behavior or work performance due to a hostile working environment. The definition: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when it implicitly or explicitly suggested that submission to or rejection of the conduct will be a factor in employment decisions or evaluations; and the conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with individual work performance and creates an intimidating or hostile working environment.

Sexual harassment can be a subtle as telling jokes and as blatant and egregious as repeated requests for sex. An easy way to prevent and avoid being involved in a sexual harassment allegation or complaint is to simply not engage in sexual conversations, sexual banter, inappropriate sexual e-mails, scantily clad or provocative sexual pictures, or any type of inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature. Please employees, and this includes supervisors, now you have the definition of sexual harassment, look hard at your own situation and evaluate your actions in the workplace, if you feel you are crossing the fine line into sexual harassment territory you must stop those actions or words immediately.

The EO office must rely on managers to assist in the prevention of sexual harassment. Management has an obligation to ensure the Air Force policies are carried out and accountable for the working environment in which our employees work. As a leader, you are entrusted with the guidance and nurturing of your employees. You need to ensure your employees are protected from discrimination or harassment because of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age or reprisal. Your actions and or words are scrutinized by others on a daily basis. Therefore without fail you must set the example and be a positive influence. If an employee reports allegations of sexual harassment they should expect the following: the allegations are taken seriously; entitled to non-attribution from management and employees; a prompt inquiry/investigation into the facts of the situation; employees found to have committed sexual harassment will be held accountable, and corrective action to prevent sexual harassment in the future.

If a manager does not take immediate action when an act of sexual harassment is reported, it may be perceived that you condone the action. Furthermore, our employees put trust and confidence in management to lead the way; to enforce and abide by a zero tolerance standard within their respective organizations, after all you are their leader. This standard requires that every aspect of your relationship with your subordinates be professional and beyond reproach. As leaders, you must be constantly vigilant in preventing situations or behaviors that present even the appearance or perception of impropriety.

Sexual harassment can have serious consequences on unit teamwork, which is the main ingredient we need to succeed as an Air Force. The good news is, it's within the control of each of us to put a stop to inappropriate sexual behavior and discrimination. If you believe sexual harassment is alive and well within your work environment, in whatever form, I encourage you to report the condition to your supervisor or through your chain-of-command. Management can not take care of the situation if you don't make them aware. If you don't feel comfortable bringing it to the attention of your management, please feel free to contact the EO office at 777-5455 or 777-4856 for civilian assistance and Military Equal Opportunity for military assistance. Managers may contact the EO offices; your employee relations specialist for your organization and/or the judge advocates office for advise on how to handle a sexual harassment complaints.

Please, don't be afraid to report inappropriate behavior, in accordance with 29 CFR 1614 all employees have the right to remain anonymous at the informal stage of the EEO process. Meaning the EEO office will not disclose your identity if you so desire or if you fear retaliation. Again, we encourage you to use your chain of command to report sexual harassment within your organization. It may help prevent future improprieties.

Management, please ensure the subject of sexual harassment is discussed at all levels during upcoming staff meetings within your respective organizations. The employees are entitled to this information and if we work together we should be able to confront and prevent harassment on our base. Positive change cannot occur without self-awareness. It is lack of self-awareness that often creates a situation that is harmful. Let me thank-you in advance for giving this subject your utmost and prompt attention.