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Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper addresses reporters Friday at a press conference in the governor’s Capitol Cabinet Room. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans listens. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper addresses reporters Friday at a press conference in the governor’s Capitol Cabinet Room. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans listens. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Dayton administration rolls out 10-point sexual harassment plan

The Dayton administration has outlined a set of 10 recommendations aimed at quelling sexual harassment in state government’s executive branch workplaces.

Broadly, the recommendations aim to create “more centralized and accountable processes” and to provide a more supportive environment for employees, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said Friday.

“Employees must feel safe to report incidents,” Frans said at a press conference in the Governor’s Capitol Cabinet Room. “They must be confident in the responsiveness of their supervisors. We must create a fair and effective process for all of them.”

Central to the plan is creation of a new central office that would receive and investigate complaints. That office, for which there is no cost estimate yet, would also be a central hub for monitoring and enforcing anti-harassment policies and procedures across the 23 executive branch agencies, Frans said.

Among its other planks, the plan would institute new training requirements. It would open communication among the state’s 33,200 executive branch employees by rolling out regular surveys that query workers on their personal harassment experiences.

It also includes for a more diverse workforce and lobby for more women in positions of authority.

Another part of the plan likely will pique the interest of privacy-conscious activists, lawmakers and other government officials. That Dayton-led legislative initiative would reconfigure parts of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act to make sexual harassment investigations more transparent, Frans said.

The details have yet to be worked out. But Frans said Dayton plans to roll it out for the Legislature in early March.

“One of the concerns that people have who file a complaint is they don’t hear anything for a long time,” Frans said.

That’s not because they are being intentionally ignored, he said. “It’s because we don’t have the ability to say very much about that,” he said. “That’s just the nature of the government and the Data Practices Act. In the private sector, that’s not an issue.”

Emily Piper, the Human Services Department commissioner, helped present the plan. She said she hopes the Legislature engages in conversations about modifying the Data Practices Act—including the Legislature’s own application of its provisions.

“I think that there are good conversations that should take place, not only for the executive branch but beyond,” Piper said. She did not specify what she meant.

Several months ago at a press conference, Dayton was asked if a centralized office like the one his administration now recommends might be a resource for legislative branch employees. He said he thought it could.

Frans didn’t back away from Dayton’s previous statements. But he did caution that the suggestions proffered today apply only to executive branch agencies.

Dayton is “more than willing” to offer the new office as a resource for both the legislative and judicial branches, Frans said.

“But we have to be invited into the situations to provide support,” he said, later adding: “We would have to have the judicial branch, or the legislative branch, want to have that conversation.”

 

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Harassment data

Part of Friday’s presentation dealt with the raw number of complaints that have been received by various agencies over the past six years. Among the numbers highlighted:

  • All agencies reported a total of 266 complaints in that time. That averaged out to 44 per year, Frans points out, affecting 0.1 percent of the total workforce.
  • Of the 266 complaints received, 51 percent were substantiated. Seven percent of them were reviewed but found not to require further investigation. Five percent are still pending.
  • The Department of Corrections reported the greatest number of complaints. It has 73 over the past six years. Human Services had 45 complaints, MnDOT had 33. They also are the three largest state agencies, according to the MMB’s 2016 Annual Workforce Report, the most recent available.
  • The Public Safety Department reported 22 complaints, despite employing only 5 percent of the state’s workers, according to the workforce report. By contrast, the Revenue Department, which employed 4 percent of the state workforce in 2016, had only nine complaints.

Frans said that it is difficult to compare agencies or find trend lines in that data but he said it will be reviewed on an ongoing basis. He said some agencies are more male-dominated, which is likely a contributing factor.

Regardless of what message lies within the data, Frans said, the goal is the same—elimination of workplace harassment. “There is no place in our workplace for sexual harassment,” he said.

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