As employees at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), we have access to several resources that can assist with a myriad of professional issues. Some of our offices have overlapping functions that use similar acronyms and abbreviations, which can be confusing and difficult to remember which office is best for each specific issue.
There is a lot of information relative to the new anti-harassment policy at NIH. The two offices that get often confused are the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Program housed within the Resolution and Equity (R&E) division of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Office (EDI), and the NIH Civil Program. Both offices have a role to play in the prevention of harassment at the NIH but involve entirely separate processes with separate purposes. Let’s take a look.
The R&E division provides oversight of the NIH EEO program. All NIH employees, contractors, and job applicants have a right to file a complaint of discrimination on the following basis: age, race, sex, national origin, disability, color, religion, retaliation, or genetic information.
If you choose to file a complaint of discrimination, you will enter the informal stage of the EEO process.
- The informal stage typically runs 30 - 90 calendar days and focuses on an early resolution. If you decide to file, you have the option of an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) which involves using a mediator to bring the parties together in an effort to resolve the complaint; or traditional counseling where an EEO counselor has separate discussions with each party to work toward resolution of the complaint.
- If a resolution of the complaint is not reached during the 30 - 90-day timeframe your case will be closed, and you will have the option of filing a formal complaint within 15 calendar days which is the second phase of the process. When you file a formal complaint the focus shifts from the resolution of the case to gathering factual information to adequately determine if discrimination has occurred.
- The first step in the formal process is to determine if the claims will be accepted for investigation. Accepted claims will be investigated and compiled in a report of investigation within 180 - 360 days from the date the formal complaint is filed. You will be provided a copy of the report of investigation and have 30 days to elect a final agency decision written by the agency or choose to have a hearing with an administrative judge at the federal EEOC who will make a decision on the case.
NIH Civil Program
In contrast, the NIH Civil Program is located under the Office of Human Resources. Civil is not an acronym but the name stands for civility in the workplace. Civil is charged with centrally managing all allegations of harassment; including sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation. This responsibility involves conducting administrative inquiries into harassment allegations and providing recommendations to management to ensure that any misconduct found is addressed consistently across the NIH.
There is no timeframe to file an allegation with the Civil Program, although information too far in the past may hinder the ability to obtain relevant information. Additionally, Civil does not mediate between management and employees. The purpose of Civil is to conduct a fact-finding investigation to see if NIH policy is violated (meaning manual chapter 1311) and to ensure that any harassing behavior is curtailed swiftly for a safe and civil work environment.
- The Civil process starts with someone making an allegation. The allegation can be made anonymously or non-anonymously to Civil by calling the program specialist line at (301) 402-4845), Civil Program hotline at (833) 224-3829), or using the online web form. Additionally, all NIH managers and supervisors are required to report allegations of harassment directly to Civil.
- Then, if contact information is provided, the servicing Civil program specialist will reach out to the complainant to obtain more information. If the allegation does not rise to the level of policy violation, the allegation may be referred to a partnering office, including the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), the Office of the Ombudsman, or various resources within the institute.
- If it is determined that an administrative inquiry is necessary, then either Civil Program staff or an external contractor reaches to witnesses and ask specific questions about their perspectives on the allegations. Then, the person who is alleged to have violated the policy is asked to respond to the allegation.
- Once all of the information is collected, Civil shares their findings with IC management and employee relations to determine the best way to address the situation. Once a solution has been implemented, Civil notifies the complainant (if not anonymous) and the respondent that the inquiry is complete, but no other information is provided. Unlike the EEO ROI, Civil does not release findings directly to the individuals involved to maintain the privacy of all employees.
It could be confusing for employees and managers when Civil and EEO are investigating the same allegations. If an employee goes to Civil first to make an allegation, they are always provided a list of resources, including information on the EEO process. However, the employee does not have to file a complaint of discrimination. If an employee files a complaint first, R&E will notify Civil, so that Civil can conduct an administrative inquiry into the allegation. That is because the R&E division is a neutral entity and will not provide corrective recommendations to management.Additionally, there may be an EEO investigator and a Civil specialist contacting staff about the same allegations. While the EEO investigator uses this information for the EEO complaint, the Civil specialist requires this information to ensure any misconduct is addressed and remediated. Both resources are appropriate for any allegations of harassment at the NIH.
Additionally, there may be an EEO investigator and a Civil specialist contacting staff about the same allegations. While the EEO investigator uses this information for the EEO complaint, the Civil specialist requires this information to ensure any misconduct is addressed and remediated. Both resources are appropriate for any allegations of harassment at the NIH.
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