- Calling the sexual misconduct allegations against the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) former HR chief "deeply disturbing," FEMA Administrator Brock Long issued a public statement outlining reform measures for the embattled agency. Long said that the results of an internal investigation of the allegations gave him no choice but to "take decisive action to address lapses in professional responsibility," which he said included "requesting further investigation" by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General. DHS oversees FEMA.
- Long didn't call out the HR chief by name in his statement, but Corey Coleman, FEMA's component human capital officer, is the focus of the investigation, the Washington Post reported. Coleman is accused of creating a work environment of widespread sexual misconduct. He allegedly sexually harassed female subordinates and hired women to be possible sexual partners to men in the agency. Coleman, who had been at FEMA since 2011, resigned in June, according to the Post.
- Long said the agency will reform the agency by establishing an Office of Professional Responsibility to follow up on and resolve employee misconduct allegations; conducting a third-party review of FEMA's approach to taking, managing and resolving employee misconduct claims, particularly sexual harassment allegations; and providing counseling services and health and wellness advisors to all FEMA workers who might not have received such support in the past.
The #MeToo movement is encouraging more people to come forward with claims, some dating back decades. But few employers made changes to their policy in the immediate aftermath of the movement's emergence, an American Physiological Association survey showed.
FEMA, like so many other workplaces, reportedly was one in which a culture of sexual misconduct was tolerated and allowed to fester for years. A culture overhaul, including terminations, is often necessary in such cases to change behaviors and mindsets.
Sexual misconduct allegations against an HR professional are particularly unsettling, and exemplifies the systemic issues that can grow if HR is not at the front of battling the issue. HR should have a formal procedure for filing harassment and misconduct claims that secures workers' identity and protects them from retaliation — and keeps everyone in the company accountable, from frontline employees to top executives, various lawyers have told HR Dive.
According to a Bloomberg report, requests for sexual harassment training are up following calls for reform. But training alone might not be enough. FEMA's actions for reform include sweeping changes to all aspects of handling and resolving complaints beyond training.
These events are a good reminder that sexual harassment is a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has doubled down on its commitment to ending workplace harassment.
"This came as no surprise to those of us at EEOC, especially those of us in this room," EEOC Chair Victoria Lipnic said of the #MeToo movement at the EEOC EXCEL conference this year. "The good thing about this, if there is a good thing to say about it, is that at EEOC, we were prepared."