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'There is a problem in our workplace': Survey of L.A. city employees find many chose not to report harassment

'There is a problem in our workplace': Survey of L.A. city employees find many chose not to report harassment
An anonymous survey, released last week by the Los Angeles Personnel Department, is believed to be the first citywide poll of employees on sexual harassment in decades. (Bob Carey / Los Angeles Times)

Nearly 18% of Los Angeles city employees who responded to a recent survey said they have been sexually harassed in the workplace, while more than half of employees who said they have been subjected to harassment didn't report the incident to anyone.

The anonymous survey, released last week by the Personnel Department, is believed to be the first citywide poll of employees on sexual harassment in decades.

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City Council members Paul Krekorian and Nury Martinez requested a survey of the city's 45,000 employees last fall amid a nationwide focus on unwanted sexual attention in the workplace.

A total of 4,205 employees responded to the survey, a "strong sample response," said Jody Yoxsimer, an assistant manager who worked on the project.

The survey was purposely broad, Yoxsimer said. For example, employees were asked if they have experienced harassment in the workplace, and "workplace" could be interpreted as either the city of Los Angeles or a previous employer.

"We wanted to know about people's experiences because their responses are going to guide us in our review of our policies," Yoxsimer said.

Krekorian said in an interview Monday that he was troubled by the high number of employees who said they didn't report harassment. "There is a problem in our workforce," Krekorian said. "It's more pervasive than we thought."

Martinez said in a statement that the "results confirmed my belief that we have to educate our employees on how to report incidents of harassment."

"I am comforted by the fact that an overwhelming number of respondents reported never having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, but even one person is unacceptable," she said.

A total of 745 people, or about 17.7% of those who answered the survey, reported that they had been sexually harassed on the job. Responding to the same question, 639 employees — or 15.2% — said they had witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace. (Respondents were allowed to check more than one box on this question.)

In response to another question, 929 people out of 1,674 who responded said they had been subjected to harassment but never reported it — a total that exceeds the 745 who said they been harassed.

Asked about the discrepancy, Yoxsimer said the higher figure may include employees who witnessed other people being harassed.

More than 48% of respondents said they didn't know the contact information, or where to find it, for their department's "sexual harassment counselor," defined as the employee who can receive claims.

City officials are expected to discuss the report at an as-yet unscheduled committee hearing.

New reporting protocols to track harassment complaints against city employees were put in place in December after The Times reported that the city lacked a centralized method for lodging abuse complaints.

The Personnel Department's Equal Employment Opportunity Division has received 26 reports of sexual harassment allegations since Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the new guidelines, according to a February report.

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Before the new system was implemented, the division received 35 sexual harassment-related complaints from 2013 to 2017, according to the city.

To read this article in Spanish, click here

Twitter: @dakotacdsmith

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