Citizens Union Testifies to The Committee on Women and the Committee on Civil and Human Rights Hearing on the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act

Calls for Public Reporting and Tracking of Sexual Harassment Complaints in New York City

February 28, 2018 - Citizens Union testified to the New York City Council in support of the efforts to protect New Yorkers in the workplaces of city government to the Committee on Civic and Civil Rights . Guaranteeing a safe, empowering, and dignified workplace for all New Yorkers, especially women and especially those working in city government, is at the basis of our efforts to protect and uphold public trust. At a minimum, city government workplaces must have serious safeguards to prevent sexual harassment and abuses of power. With no known aggregation of city agencies’ sexual harassment policies, this effort must begin with a thorough review of best practices and existing policy, requiring a concerted effort across city agencies and input from public employees, elected officials, and experts. As the first official step in such a process, we applaud this convening.

Testimony

Good morning Chairs Rosenthal and Eugene, and members of the Committees on Women and Civil and Human Rights. My name is Rachel Bloom and I am the Director of Public Policy & Programs at Citizens Union. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the important matter of sexual harassment best practices and policies in New York City.

Citizens Union is an independent, non-partisan civic organization of New Yorkers that promotes good government and advances democratic reform in our city and state. As part of our mission, we work to ensure that public officials and their staff meet their responsibilities to the people and uphold the public trust. We feel strongly that guaranteeing a safe, empowering, and dignified workplace for all New Yorkers, especially women and especially those working in city government, is at the basis of that effort.

We are at a turning point in addressing the shortcoming of existing labor rights to protect employees from sexual harassment around the country. As the need for reform in most industries has become well-articulated, elected officials must set an example of what meaningful change looks like. At a minimum, city government workplaces must have serious safeguards to prevent sexual harassment and abuses of power. With no known aggregation of city agencies’ sexual harassment policies, this effort must begin with a thorough review of best practices and existing policy, requiring a concerted effort across city agencies and input from public employees, elected officials, and experts. As the first official step in such a process, we applaud this convening.

Citizens Union notes with concern that there has never been a comprehensive review of practices and policies related to sexual harassment across city government. Outside of the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Policy – of which only a small portion is dedicated to sexual harassment – standards related to sexual and gender-based harassment, if they exist at all, are not readily known to the public and there are no assurances that they meet the needs of city employees. We cannot tell if they adequately address the common experiences of city employees, especially women. Citizens Union commends efforts to update the citywide EEO Policy on an ongoing basis, but we are not convinced that this single instrument can fulfill the need for specific, agency-appropriate policy that is also publically transparent.

There are over 130 New York City agencies and a municipal workforce of 330,000 employees. The city’s EEO Policy is a general guideline for equal employment practices across the myriad functions of city government, with a greater emphasis on hiring than on-the-job behavior. According to the EEO Policy, it is up to each agency to hire an EEO Officer who must be notified of an EEO complaint. The procedures for dealing with an EEO complaint and who is responsible for fulfilling the responsibilities of the EEO Officer within each agency are not uniform, and there may be broad latitude in how the Policy is enforced. Until individual agency-based sexual harassment policies are publically reviewed, it will be impossible to know if adequate protections are in place, how they are being enforced, and where shortcomings in the city’s overall sexual harassment prevention system are.

Inasmuch as there are not uniform policy practices across agencies, there seem also to be no public tracking of sexual harassment complaints, or reporting on the nature of complaints and the outcomes of investigations. There is a database of EEO-related metrics but such data disaggregated by category, including sexual harassment, is not publically available. Because there is a serious dearth of sunlight on these agency-based policies, it is unclear whether such information is collected at all.

In conclusion, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that the policies related to sexual harassment in city agencies are adequate and available for public review. Moreover, to guarantee the appropriate, adequate, and efficient application of such policies there needs to be thorough reporting of important metrics including the number of sexual harassment complaints filed, the outcome, and where incidents occur. To this end, an official commitment to transparency in this area is essential. We again commend these committees for taking up this charge and strongly urge the Mayor to proactively support this review and advance reforms that protect the safety and dignity of women, and all city employees, in the workplace.

Thank you for seeking Citizens Union’s testimony today. I welcome any questions you may have.