Oregon State Capitol, governor's office (Salem Reporter/file)
A state agency overseeing personnel issues has taken a hands-off approach to workplace discrimination and harassment investigations, a recent report concluded.
The report, released Wednesday by state auditors, found that the Department of Administrative Services doesn’t do enough to track or oversee workplace discrimination and harassment investigations, leaving taxpayers on the hook for potentially hefty legal fees.
The department provides administrative services for state offices and agencies, the Department of Corrections or Oregon Health Authority. While the department is in charge of personnel functions, it mostly delegates human resources duties to roughly 400 state agencies, boards and commissions, leaving a patchwork system for investigating harassment that fails to identify common problems or proactively address potential areas of concern
The report found that the Department of Administrative services doesn’t “provide sufficient oversight of agency workplace discrimination and harassment investigations, as it does not track or analyze allegation or investigation data.” The department could use the data to determine if the allegations were handled appropriately, as well as to identify root causes and trends that could be proactively dealt with, the report found.
“We found agencies are inconsistent in how they conduct investigations, with differing timelines, procedures, and documentation standards,” auditors said in the report.
The report found that long investigations can be costly to the state and that agencies take an average of 56 business days to complete them. The state also doesn’t have formal training requirements for staff who conduct investigations.
Harassment allegations can come at great cost to taxpayers, the report said. It cited a 2019 settlement from a lawsuit brought against the Oregon Legislature over workplace harassment. The settlement cost $1.32 million, in addition to more than $277,000 in investigative and legal fees.
Since then, the Legislature has passed laws intended to strengthen workplace protections.
Among other workplace harassment litigation that has cost taxpayers, the report mentioned “multiple discrimination and harassment lawsuits pending against the Department of Corrections which could potentially cost the state $12 million.”
The report called on the Department of Administrative Services to develop a tracking system for harassment allegations and investigations and develop training curriculum and guidelines for investigators. It also called on the department to periodically analyze data and get guidance for its legal responsibilities.
The department agrees with the recommendations.
“All of us have a duty to take steps to prevent and address acts of discrimination and harassment,” said Secretary of State Bev Clarno, who oversees state auditors, in a statement. “While Oregon has taken steps to better address allegations and support victims, there is still more that can be done. By implementing the recommendations contained in our report, DAS will demonstrate its leadership and commitment to protecting those serving in government.”
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.
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