Addressing fear of retaliation among University employees

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — One of the key findings of the 2013 Values and Culture Survey involves University employees’ fear of retaliation for reporting wrongdoing. The University has already begun to take steps to respond to concerns raised by the survey, with more changes in the works.

Among staff members who chose to report misconduct in the previous year, 18 percent said that they experienced retaliation as a result. Ten percent of faculty who reported misconduct stated they experienced retaliation. Among staff members who chose not to report, 30 percent said they did not report because they were afraid of losing their job, and the same percentage of staff members said they elected not to report again because of their previous experiences with reporting misconduct. These results were significantly higher for staff than they were for faculty and students.

Another notable difference in retaliation was between academic units versus non-academic units. While faculty and staff in non-academic units reported a higher incidence of retaliation — 19 percent versus 13 for academic units — it is actually the academic units that experience a greater share of the retaliation at Penn State. Of those who reported experiencing retaliation, 56 percent were in academic units, compared to 44 percent in non-academic units. (Click here for a look at perceived retaliation rates by unit.)

Although the retaliation rate for faculty and staff at Penn State at 15 percent is markedly lower than the reported national retaliation rate of 21 percent (National Business Ethics Survey, 2013), it is still a great area of concern for University leadership. In response, Penn State’s leadership implemented a plan last September to address this and other challenges unveiled by the survey.

Since September, the Office of Ethics and Compliance has made progress on several fronts related to the plan, including:

  • Creation of a new Ethics and Compliance Investigator position, which is slated to be filled within the next month;
  • Selection of a new hotline vendor and consolidation of the Ethics and Compliance, Bias and Sexual Assault hotlines, which will provide the University community with a single resource for reporting wrongdoing;
  • Distribution of a quarterly newsletter, in collaboration with Penn State Today, to increase communication regarding the existence, role and function of the Office of Ethics and Compliance;
  • Completion of 46 town hall meetings to gather feedback on the proposed Penn State Values.

Upcoming areas of focus include:

  • Establishment of standardized investigation protocols and check-ins with self-disclosed reporters to prevent retaliation;
  • Revised training for academic management/leadership, which will be piloted in September;
  • Revised training for staff management/leadership, which was piloted this past academic year;
  • Collaboration with the Faculty Senate on revisions to policy AD47 (General Standards of Professional Ethics) to outline expectations of professional conduct for faculty;
  • Revision of policy AD88 (Code of Responsible Conduct) to include ethical conduct standards for all Penn State employees;
  • Development of recommended performance standards aligned with revisions to policies AD47 and AD88;
  • Socialization of the Penn State Values.

The Office of Ethics and Compliance looks forward to working with the University community to implement these changes and continues to accept your feedback. You can contact us at universityethics@psu.edu, or reports can be filed anonymously through the University Hotline at 1-800-560-1637 or www.mycompliancereport.com/brand/psu.  

For more information, email Denise Shivery, communications and training specialist in the Office of Ethics and Compliance.

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Last Updated June 29, 2015