The Department of State is committed to providing a workplace that is free from sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in the workplace is against the law and will not be tolerated. When the Department determines that an allegation of sexual harassment is credible, it will take prompt and appropriate corrective action.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

  1. An employment decision affecting that individual is made because the individual submitted to or rejected the unwelcome conduct; or
  2. The unwelcome conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive work environment.

Certain behaviors, such as conditioning promotions, awards, training or other job benefits upon acceptance of unwelcome actions of a sexual nature, are always wrong.

Unwelcome actions such as the following are inappropriate and, depending on the circumstances, may in and of themselves meet the definition of sexual harassment or contribute to a hostile work environment:

  • Sexual pranks, or repeated sexual teasing, jokes, or innuendo, in person or via e-mail;
  • Verbal abuse of a sexual nature;
  • Touching or grabbing of a sexual nature;
  • Repeatedly standing too close to or brushing up against a person;
  • Repeatedly asking a person to socialize during off-duty hours when the person has said no or has indicated he or she is not interested (supervisors in particular should be careful not to pressure their employees to socialize);
  • Giving gifts or leaving objects that are sexually suggestive;
  • Repeatedly making sexually suggestive gestures;
  • Making or posting sexually demeaning or offensive pictures, cartoons or other materials in the workplace;
  • Off-duty, unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that affects the work environment.A victim of sexual harassment can be a man or a woman. The victim can be of the same sex as the harasser. The harasser can be a supervisor, co-worker, other Department employee, or a non-employee who has a business relationship with the Department.

The Department’s Responsibilities Under This Policy

If the Department receives an allegation of sexual harassment, or has reason to believe sexual harassment is occurring, it will take the necessary steps to ensure that the matter is promptly investigated and addressed. If the allegation is determined to be credible, the Department will take immediate and effective measures to end the unwelcome behavior. The Department is committed to take action if it learns of possible sexual harassment, even if the individual does not wish to file a formal complaint.

The Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) is the main contact point for questions or concerns about sexual harassment. S/OCR has responsibility for investigating or overseeing investigations of alleged sexual harassment. S/OCR is committed to ensuring that all investigations of sexual harassment are conducted in a prompt, thorough, and impartial manner.

Supervisors and other responsible Department officials who observe, are informed of, or reasonably suspect incidents of possible sexual harassment must immediately report such incidents to S/OCR, which will either initiate or oversee a prompt investigation. Failure to report such incidents to S/OCR will be considered a violation of this policy and may result in disciplinary action. S/OCR will provide guidance as needed on investigating and handling the potential harassment. Supervisors should take effective measures to ensure no further apparent or alleged harassment occurs pending completion of an investigation.

The Department will seek to protect the identities of the alleged victim and harasser, except as reasonably necessary (for example, to complete an investigation successfully). The Department will also take the necessary steps to protect from retaliation those employees who in good faith report incidents of potential sexual harassment. It is a violation of both federal law and this policy to retaliate against someone who has reported possible sexual harassment. Violators may be subject to discipline.

Employees who have been found by the Department to have subjected another employee to unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, whether such behavior meets the legal definition of sexual harassment or not, will be subject to discipline or other appropriate management action. Discipline will be appropriate to the circumstances, ranging from a letter of reprimand through suspensions without pay of varying lengths to separation for cause. A verbal or written admonishment, while not considered formal discipline, may also be considered.

Employees’ Rights and Responsibilities Under This Policy

Any employee who believes he or she has been the target of sexual harassment is encouraged to inform the offending person orally or in writing that such conduct is unwelcome and offensive and must stop.

If the employee does not wish to communicate directly with the offending person, or if such communication has been ineffective, the employee has multiple avenues for reporting allegations of sexual harassment and/or pursuing resolution.

Employees are encouraged to report the unwelcome conduct as soon as possible to a responsible Department official. It is usually most effective — although it is not required–that the official be within the employee’s supervisory chain. Responsible Department officials include first- or second-line supervisors, the offending person’s supervisor, the post’s management officers, the bureau’s Executive Director, or the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR).

In addition to reporting sexual harassment concerns to a responsible Department official, employees who believe they have been subjected to sexual harassment may elect to pursue resolution in several ways, including:

  • Mediation: Mediation is an informal way to resolve office problems using a trained mediator who facilitates communication between the parties to the dispute. If an employee chooses to attempt resolution through mediation, management is obligated by Department policy to send a representative to the table. If a resolution is not reached, the parties may continue to pursue their rights in any other appropriate forum. Employees may ask for the assistance of a mediator by contacting S/OCR.
  • Grievances: Civil Servants who are not covered by a negotiated grievance procedure cannot bring grievances on EEO matters. Civil Service employees who are covered by a negotiated grievance procedure may only file a grievance alleging sexual harassment or other EEO matters if permitted by the governing collective bargaining agreement. Members of the Foreign Service may file grievances on EEO matters; however, pursuant to 3 FAM 4428 they must elect to file either a grievance or an EEO complaint. If a Foreign Service employee elects to file a grievance, the Grievance Staff (HR/G) will investigate the allegations and recommend a resolution to the Deputy Assistant Secretary responsible for rendering the agency decision on grievances.
  • EEO processes: All employees working in the United States and U.S. citizens working for the Department overseas can file an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint with the Department. An employee who wishes to file a complaint under EEO procedures must consult an EEO counselor within 45 days of the alleged incident. A list of EEO counselors is available on S/OCR’s website at It is not necessary for an employee to complain to his/her supervisor before approaching an EEO counselor, nor to attempt informal resolution through mediation or other means. (Note: Some contractors cannot by law bring EEO complaints against the Department; contractors may contact S/OCR for guidance.)
  • Processes for Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs): Issues raised by FSNs are handled at post, according to complaints processing procedures available on the S/OCR website at FSNs with questions about post procedures should contact the post’s senior management officer and/or designated EEO counselor. FSNs may also contact S/OCR for guidance. More information about the resolution and complaint processes is available on the S/OCR website.

Contact Information

S/OCR can be contacted by telephone at (202) 647-9294 or (202) 647-9295, or by email at

All Department employees, including but not limited to staff, supervisors, and senior officials, are required to comply with this policy. Employees are also expected to behave professionally and to exercise good judgment in work-related relationships, whether with fellow employees, business colleagues, or members of the public with whom they come into contact in the course of official duties. Further, all employees are expected to take appropriate measures to prevent sexual harassment. Unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature should be stopped before it becomes severe or pervasive and rises to a violation of law.

U.S. Department of State

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