RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – There has been plenty of focus nationally in recent months on sexual harassment in the workplace.
It’s impacted the business world, the entertainment world and government.
CBS North Carolina is looking closer at the impact on state government here in North Carolina.
“We have a zero tolerance for any type of unlawful workplace harassment or discrimination,” said Melody Hunter-Pillion, communications director with the Office of State Human Resources.
When we talk sexual harassment and how it’s defined in state government, the State Human Resources Manual describes it as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” That is as it relates to someone’s employment status or working environment.
“With the state of North Carolina, when an employee files a complaint or reports harassment, it is always taken seriously and investigated,” said Hunter-Pillion.
Hunter-Pillion said the office is updating its website to make harassment policies and procedures more accessible to employees.
New resources also will soon be introduced in the training process for state employees, as well.
She also said Governor Cooper will send out a letter to department heads next week, reemphasizing the state’s commitment to the prevention of harassment and discrimination.
“You can only really be productive in the workplace if you feel good and comfortable,” said Hunter-Pillion.
She said different types of harassment in state government are tracked at the agency level and then each department reports its findings to the state human resources office.
CBS North Carolina also has asked for how many sexual harassment complaints were filed in state government in 2017. While we don’t have that information yet, the Office of Human Resources tells us it is working to get us those numbers.
As for the message to state employees…
“We just want them to feel safe at work, supported at work,” said Hunter-Pillion.
Call for Stronger Laws
A local employment lawyer told CBS North Carolina her office has a seen a significant increase in recent months in the number of sexual harassment-related phone calls they’ve received.
She wants to see stronger laws to address the issue.
Laura Noble runs an employment law office in Chapel Hill.
In particular, she is concerned when she hears an employee feels he or she has been sexually harassed at a business that has fewer than 15 employees.
She said there is no law expressly prohibiting sexual harassment in those situations.
“One thing North Carolina could do is introduce legislation, and there are other states that have done it, that prohibit those very activities so employers were clear what their obligations were and employees understood that they have a right to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace,” said Noble.
Noble said she hopes to see changes at the state and federal levels.
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