Harassment Photo Credit: iStockphoto.comM

A new report from the Delaware Department of Human Resources is calling for an overhaul to the state’s sexual harassment policies after finding major gaps in existing training and prevention programs.

According to the report, prepared by DHR Secretary Saundra Ross Johnson, only 9,000 of the approximately 14,000 executive branch employees have completed voluntary sexual harassment training since 2006, and 1,500 have failed to even acknowledge reading the current policy regarding anti-discrimination, workplace harassment and retaliation.

Released March 13, the 15-page analysis found that inconsistencies across 16 agencies have resulted in a muddled approach to handling anti-discrimination complaints and investigations. It recommended a centralized system for tracking and processing complaints and a new mandatory training regiment with periodic refreshers for all employees.

“Training must be linked to a broader communication strategy to reinforce and engage employees as to a respectful workplace,” the report said. “One of the most pervasive concerns facing employees that experience harassment is a fear of retaliation. To prevent retaliation, the state must better train employees in recognizing and preventing it.”

Gov. John Carney last March signed an executive order directing an update of the state’s anti-discrimination policies. In December, he called on the DHR to conduct a review, amid a national backlash against workplace abuses sparked by the #MeToo movement.

The recommendations include consolidating two existing executive branch policies into one “concise” protocol, better communicating the policy to employees and streamlining the process for monitoring and reporting complaints.

The report also suggested that the General Assembly pass legislation requiring lobbyists, vendors and contractors doing business with the state to certify that they have similar measures in place.

A status update on the department’s action plan is due to the governor by the end of the year.

In a statement, Carney said his office would “take appropriate action on all of the report’s recommendations.”

“As we all know, in recent months, allegations of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace have emerged across our country,” he said. “The state of Delaware, like all employers, has an obligation to protect our employees from facing harassment and assault of any kind. That’s why I asked Secretary Johnson to prepare this report, and to look at ways we can improve the state’s policies and procedures.”

Johnson, who was confirmed by the state Senate to head the DHR in January, said the DHR was “committed” to implementing the report’s recommendations and developing “consistent and clearly defined policies, practices and procedures.”

The General Assembly created the DHR last June in response to Carney’s call to increase diversity and ensure uniform enforcement of policies.

Lawmakers in the state House of Representatives voted unanimously in January to update their own rules to define sexual harassment and outline a process for handling complaints. The Senate has yet to take up such a measure.