Regulations on sexual harassment, misconduct strengthened
The state Personnel Commission voted Friday to toughen state rules prohibiting sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace, giving administrators the power to immediately terminate violators from state service.
The new rules are, in part, a response to a hearing officer’s decision reinstating a female prison employee who performed oral sex on a male co-worker while on duty at the Lovelock medium security prison.
The rule changes clarify that a state worker can be dismissed for a first offense of sexual misconduct without going through the traditional system of progressive discipline for violations in cases of sexual harassment.
Shelley Blotter of the personnel department said the changes also define sexual conduct so that everyone understands exactly what types of activities are prohibited.
She said the department was not attempting to criminalize sexual conduct, but said the rules must be made stronger and clearer both to prevent such conduct and because harassment suits are costing the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We’re saying don’t do it while you’re working for the state,” she said.
Dennis Colling, administrative services officer for DMV, said he is concerned the new rules could be abused.
“What is needed is protection against the bad administrator who is going to come in and say, ‘Aha, I never liked this person anyway,’ and get rid of them,” he said.
Colling said disciplinary action should go through the existing system to make sure there is reasonable justification for a termination rather than giving administrators broader authority.
The new rules also prohibit any viewing of pornographic material on state time or state computers. Human Service Director Mike Willden has said in the past he has handled too many cases of employees caught viewing pornography on their state computers. He said his agency has zero tolerance for that violation because they are responsible for, among other things, many services to children in the state.
Scott Sisco, acting director of Cultural Affairs, said that kind of rule always causes problems for his agency, which deals with art and artists because pornography is in the eye of the beholder. He said to some, Michaelangelo’s statue of David is an artistic masterpiece but that others would say it was pornographic because it depicts a nude male. He said deciding whether something appeals to someone’s prurient interests asks an administrator to determine the mindset of a person which he said is impossible.
Deputy Attorney General Jim Spencer said in cases where an administrator goes too far, “a hearing officer will determine what is right.”
The new rules also allow termination of employees for “the unauthorized release or use of confidential information.”
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.