Agencies Must Provide Better Protection for Sexual Assault Victims, OPM Says

All federal agencies must in the coming months write or update their policies for responding to employees who have committed or been victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, according to guidance from the Office of Personnel Management.

OPM’s memo comes after President Obama’s April 2012 guidance requiring the federal government to “act as a model in responding to the effects of domestic violence on its workforce.” Agencies must issue their specific policies within the next 120 days.

Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking cost the American workforce nearly $8 billion per year in lost productivity, health care costs and earnings, according to OPM. The danger extends from the home to the office, as nearly one-third of women killed in the workplace between 2003 and 2008 were slain by a current or former intimate partner.

OPM offered general guidelines for agencies to consider in their specific policies, including flexibilities for victims -- such as special leave options. The human resources agency said reporting an incident to authorities should not be a prerequisite for receiving these workplace flexibilities.

It also advised agencies on how to respond to perpetrators of these crimes, noting “there must be a proven nexus” between the misconduct and the employee’s ability to perform his job in order to take adverse action against the person. This nexus, however, can be proven through the “nature and gravity” of the misconduct.

The guidance emphasized the importance of Employee Assistance Programs to help victims and in planning building security. Federal agencies should train employees on the effects of domestic violence and sexual assault, OPM said.

Each agency should have its own “response team” to deal with incidents of sexual assaults that occur both in the workplace and outside it. The team should respect confidentiality and leave the employee to deal with the issue with a supervisor when possible.

The response teams should also be involved in a federal building’s safety plan, the memo said, which should strive to assist employees who feel threatened. The plan should include provisions such as providing pictures of perpetrators to security officers, changing an affected employee’s phone extension and designing well-lit hallways and parking lots.

OPM will assess each agency’s draft proposals and give the agency six additional months to make any changes.

Finally, OPM recommended agencies create a single point of contact on the issue in order to increase accountability. This employee should work with agency supervisors to monitor and evaluate its response to victims, including the issuance of an annual report on the issue.
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