NIH Update to Address Sexual Harassment in Science

March 20, 2019
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently released an update outlining actions the agency is taking to address sexual harassment in science. This update follows up on a statement released in September 2018 by the NIH Director calling upon government science agencies to do more to change organizational culture as well as harmonize anti-sexual harassment in science policies across the government.
Background and NIH Actions
In February 2019, the NIH Working Group of the Advisory Council to the Director (ACD) on Changing the Culture to End Sexual Harassment met for the first time. Later this year the ACD Working Group will release concrete recommendations, but as preliminary measures, NIH leadership is taking the following steps:
  • Demonstrating accountability and transparency
  • Providing clear channels of communication to NIH
  • Listening to victims and survivors of sexual harassment and incorporating their perspectives into future actions
  • Clarifying expectations for institutions and investigators to ensure a safe workplace and inform the agency
NIH Expectations for Awardee Organizations
Included among its expectations for awardee institutions, NIH expects awardee organizations to proactively inform NIH of administrative actions or other circumstances that change the status of senior/key personnel on an NIH award because of sexual harassment concerns, for example modified employment or leave status during an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct.
Specifically, an organization receiving NIH funding must:
  • Notify NIH if it takes an administrative or disciplinary action against its employee(s) (e.g. limiting access to the institution’s facilities or resources) that affects the ability of the employee(s) to continue as PI or other senior key personnel on an NIH award
  • Notify NIH and seek NIH's advance approval for replacement(s) of the individual(s)
NIH Guidance and Resources
ACD’s recommendations will help inform further NIH actions, including clarifications of the agency’s guidance. In the interim, the NIH Office of Extramural Research Anti-Sexual Harassment webpage provides comprehensive information about policies and requirements for awardees. A list of anti-sexual harassment FAQs in also available on the NIH website.
Anti-Sexual Harassment Policies and Procedures at Northwestern
NIH expects its awardee organizations to develop and implement policies and practices that foster a harassment-free environment as well as to provide an accessible, effective, and easy process to report sexual harassment, and provide protection from retaliation. For more information about Northwestern’s policies and procedures, including the sexual harassment reporting process, visit the Office of Equity’s page on Sexual Misconduct Response and Prevention.