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County harassment survey shows mixed faith in reporting system

Nearly a third of Cook County employees have little faith that reporting work-place harassment to a supervisor would prompt a fair investigation.

But nearly three-quarters trust making the report to the county’s personnel department would lead to a fair inquiry.

And less than 16 percent of Cook County employees said they chose not to report harassing behavior they’d experienced over the past five years, citing such reasons as believing nothing would be done or fearing how it would affect their careers.

Those are some of the key findings in the county’s first-ever survey on harassment.

The results, which the Chicago Sun-Times obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show that about 51 percent of employees answered yes when asked if they believed reporting the problem to a supervisor would lead to a fair investigation, about 20 percent said probably, and the rest said no, probably not, or they didn’t know.

A separate question asked whether the employee believed making the report to the county’s Bureau of Human Resources would ensure a fair investigation. Just under half (49.5 percent) said yes, about 24 percent said probably, and the rest said no, probably not, or they didn’t know.

The workers were also asked if in the previous five years they chose not to report harassing behavior they’d experienced. Just under 16 percent said yes, and 84 percent said no. Of those who answered a follow-up question about reasons for not reporting such allegations, nearly 24 percent said the reason they didn’t report the behavior is because they don’t trust the complaint and resolution process. Another 24 percent did not believe anything would be done, and another roughly 21 percent were concerned that filing a complaint would impact their careers.

Asked about the results on Thursday, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said it’s her goal to make sure the workplace is one where everyone “is treated with dignity and respect.”

Asked specifically about workers who don’t trust the system, Preckwinkle said “if 24 percent feel that there’s some challenges, that means that three quarters of our employees feel that there aren’t challenges. My understanding is that 90 percent of our employees know how to report harassment and feel comfortable doing so. And I think that’s an important statistic.”

Roughly 1,500 county employees responded to the survey, which was emailed to employees in November, though it was sent to roughly 2,700 total.

Of those polled, 91 percent said they know how and where to report harassing behavior, 71 percent said they were satisfied with the availability of information on reporting harassment.

A Preckwinkle spokeswoman says the results will be given to the working group that the board president assembled in the aftermath of firing her chief of staff John Keller for allegations of sexual harassment.

Preckwinkle fired Keller days before announcing she was running for mayor.

The working group has two more meetings and will offer recommendations regarding Cook County’s anti-sexual harassment policies, practices and trainings, the spokeswoman said.

“This survey is the first of many and demonstrates President Preckwinkle’s commitment to ensuring that Cook County is a workplace is one in which all are treated with dignity and respect,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

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