NIH Considering New Recommendations on Sexual Harassment Policies
NIH Considering New Recommendations on Sexual Harassment Policies

NIH Considering New Recommendations on Sexual Harassment Policies

A working group has put forth suggestions for cracking down on misconduct, such as requiring grant applicants to disclose sexual harassment findings.

Emily Makowski
Dec 16, 2019

ABOVE: FLICKR, NIH IMAGE GALLERY

An advisory group of US National Institutes of Health officials, researchers, and victims of sexual harassment issued a report Thursday (December 12) that calls for a crackdown on sexual harassment in NIH-funded labs, according to Science.

Recommendations put forth by the Working Group on Changing the Culture to End Sexual Harassment include requiring NIH-funded institutions to notify the agency within two weeks when a grant recipient is found guilty of sexual misconduct, barring confirmed harassers from serving on NIH advisory councils, and mandating that grant applicants report sexual harassment findings against them. 

“It’s a very comprehensive document, which clearly they spent a lot of time on. It really addresses sexual harassment at all levels, from institutional leadership to protecting the safety and careers of targets of harassment,” Heather Pierce, the senior director of science policy for the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, DC, tells Science. 

NIH director Francis Collins says in a statement that the agency “will make every effort to adhere to the vision of the working group by seeking to implement the recommendations provided.” However, he added that while the NIH will work to implement some of the recommendations starting early next year, others may take longer, and the agency currently does not have legal authority to require that people report sexual harassment convictions. 

The NIH received allegations of professional misconduct, including sexual harassment, from 105 people between January and November 2019. After reviewing the allegations, the agency replaced 12 principal investigators and removed 55 people from grant application review committees, reports the working group. An NIH staff survey also published Thursday revealed that nearly 40 percent of women NIH trainees polled between January and March 2019 reported being sexually harassed at work, according to Nature.

“I’ll be satisfied when harassment is as intolerable as pulling out a cigarette in front of the NIH director and asking if it’s ok to smoke,” neuroscientist and activist BethAnn McLaughlin tells Nature.

Sexual harassment policy overhaul is also taking place within other government agencies as the US Department of Education nears the completion of a year-long process of drafting Title IX legislation changes. US universities are divided over a proposed rule by President Donald Trump’s administration that would force campus sexual assault victims to be questioned by representatives of their alleged attackers, with opponents saying it would discourage traumatized victims from reporting harassment, according to Times Higher Education.

Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at emakowski@the-scientist.com.