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Campus Life

Help When Needed: Equal Opportunity Office

Protecting employees from unlawful harassment, discrimination

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This is part five in a series about Boston University services available to faculty and staff to help with work-related and personal issues.

Boston University has a scrupulous policy of promoting equal opportunity in educational programs and employment and prohibits discrimination in any form. And if employees have concerns about unlawful discrimination or harassment, they have a place to go.

BU’s Equal Opportunity office (EOO) investigates and resolves complaints related to discrimination and harassment—including sexual misconduct—directed against employees. (Similar complaints directed against students are handled by the Judicial Affairs office.)

EOO executive director Kim Randall says her office welcomes faculty, staff, and students to come and discuss their concerns. “At the same time,” she says, “we want to remind them that if they share information that suggests to us that a violation of a BU policy may have occurred, we may need to move ahead to investigate the matter and ensure that any violation of policy is addressed.” Randall notes that her office is federally obligated to “promptly ensure that any unlawful discrimination or harassment stops, that possible future discrimination or harassment is prevented, and that we reverse, to the extent possible, any negative impact it created.”

The office covers both the Charles River Campus and the Medical Campus, as well as all of the University’s off-site locations, including Study Abroad programs.

Randall says that the nature of the complaints varies widely, from discrimination or harassment to interpersonal violence and sexual assault. Once a complaint is made, the goal is to complete the investigation within 60 days. That entails interviewing the people involved (sometimes several times), talking to witnesses, collecting documentary evidence, and taking any necessary temporary measures. Once an investigation is complete, EOO staff put the findings in a report, detailing the available evidence and offering a conclusion as to whether the person has violated BU’s equal opportunity policy or sexual misconduct/Title IX policy.

Randall says that those involved in a complaint usually are anxious. “These cases can be difficult and emotions often run high,” she says. “We do our best to assure both complainants and respondents that we will conduct a fair and thorough investigation as quickly as possible. We often put interim measures in place to help the individuals feel safe during the investigation—for example, no contact orders or temporarily reassigning residential or office space—and we make sure the individuals know where they can go for support.”

In situations where an employee is uncertain about whether to move forward with a complaint, Randall and her staff refer them to the Office of the Ombuds or the Faculty & Staff Assistance office, which provide completely confidential advice and assistance. “They can help an employee decide whether to move forward with a complaint or not, and speaking with staff in those offices doesn’t trigger an investigation,” she says.

As part of its mandate, EOO offers comprehensive two-hour training about unlawful discrimination and harassment in general, and about sexual misconduct specifically, for departments and offices across campus, as well as shorter briefings on sexual misconduct. All sessions include a discussion of definitions, examples, reporting options, and confidential resources.

Affirmative action and reasonable accommodation

EOO also works with Human Resources (HR), the Office of the Provost, and the three Medical Campus schools throughout the year to gather data for the University’s annual Affirmative Action Plan. Once the information is analyzed, the office reviews the results with HR and determines what areas or departments might need special recruiting attention to increase the number of female, minority, or veteran applicants or applicants with disabilities in the pool of qualified candidates for open positions. HR then helps that department to identify potential openings and to recruit a diverse pool of candidates.

The office plays another key role: helping faculty and staff with disabilities (Disability Services works with students) or those seeking accommodation for religious practices. EOO staff work with people who believe that a disability is making it hard for them to perform their job responsibilities. Staff meet with them, review information from their medical provider outlining the limitations and how those might affect their ability to do the job, and review the accommodations that can be made. For example, if ergonomic accommodations are needed, EOO will ask Environmental Health & Safety to do an assessment. The office might also reach out to Disability Services to tap the expertise of its personnel about special technology available to assist someone in the workplace.

Once the appropriate reasonable accommodations have been identified, EOO staff then work with the employee’s supervisor and department to make sure they are put in place.

Similarly, if the request is for an accommodation for religious practices, the office identifies with the employee the practice it is needed for and meets with that person’s department to determine how the need can be addressed.

“We do our best to ensure that both the employee’s needs and the business needs of the department are met,” Randall says.

The Equal Opportunity office is at 19 Deerfield St., second floor. For more information about the office or to schedule an appointment, email Kim Randall at krandall@bu.edu or call 617-353-9286.

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