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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is committed to doing its part to support a safe and respectful work environment across the entire biomedical research enterprise. NIH does not tolerate harassment of any kind, including sexual harassment at research institutions that receive NIH funding, or anywhere NIH-funded activities are conducted. NIH is dedicating time and resources to diligently bolster our systems and policies to identify, report, and address allegations of harassment, including sexual and gender harassment.
NIH's Expectations and Requirements
NIH, as funders of research institutions, requires that every organization receiving NIH funds:
- has systems, policies, and procedures in place to manage research activities in accordance with our standards and requirements
- complies with federal laws, regulations, and policies protecting the rights and safety of individuals working on NIH-funded projects
NIH expects that institutions:
- develop and implement policies and practices that foster a harassment-free environment;
- maintain clear, unambiguous professional codes of conduct;
- ensure employees are fully aware and regularly reminded of applicable laws, regulations, policies, and codes of conduct;
- provide an accessible, effective, and easy process to report sexual harassment, and provide protection from retaliation;
- respond promptly to allegations to ensure the immediate safety for all involved, investigate the allegations, and take appropriate sanctions; and
- inform NIH of administrative actions that removes senior/key personnel on an NIH award.
NIH encourages organizations receiving NIH funds to have in place similarly rigorous policies and related procedures for their employees, contractors, trainees, and fellows who engage in agency-funded activities as NIH’s policies and procedures for Preventing and Addressing Harassment and Inappropriate Conduct and NIH’s policy statement on Personal Relationships in the Workplace.
NIH uses the compliance and oversight tools in its authority to support a safe, harassment-free work environment, while respecting the multitude of Federal, State, and local laws and policies that govern how sexual harassment allegations are adjudicated.
Outlined below are: NIH policies and requirements that support these efforts; a description of the current reviews NIH takes before an award is made, and NIH’s post award management and actions; and important contacts and additional resources for NIH applicants and awardees.
NIH Policies and Requirements
Recipients of NIH funds must assure their compliance with civil rights protections.
- As described in NIH Grants Policy Statement 4.1, as a condition of the award, the grantee must have certified that it has on file with the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) an Assurance of Compliance with the statutes described in the “Civil Rights Protections” provision. OCR, which is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws (among other laws), provides resources to agencies and to grantees, to address concerns regarding potential violations.
- NIH has, and continues to, remind the research community of this requirement through its policy notices.
- NOT-OD-15-152: Civil Rights Protections in NIH-Supported Research, Programs, Conferences, and Other Activities, published in September 2015, reminds grantees of civil rights protections from discrimination and harassment in NIH-supported activities and of our expectations for eliminating barriers and providing equal access to the opportunity to participate in NIH supported research, programs, conferences, and other activities.
Recipients of NIH funds must proactively notify NIH of changes in a principal investigator's status, for example modified employment or leave status during an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct
- The organization receiving NIH funding must notify NIH if it takes an administrative or disciplinary action against its employee(s)-for example, limiting access to the institution’s facilities or resources or modifying employment or leave status during an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct - that affects the ability of the employee(s) to continue as PI or other senior key personnel on an NIH award.
- The organization is required to notify NIH and seek NIH's advance approval for replacement(s) of the individual(s).
- In May 2018, NIH reminded the community of this requirement in NIH Guide Notice: NOT-OD-18-172: Clarification of NIH's Policy Regarding a Change in Program Director's/Principal Investigator's Status
NIH recipients of conference grant ("R13") funding must take steps to maintain a safe and respectful environment for all attendees by providing an environment free from discrimination and harassment, sexual or otherwise.
- This is described in the NIH funding announcement for conferences and scientific meetings (Parent R13).
NIH Actions and Oversight
When an organization submits an application to NIH, their Authorized Organization Representative, by signing the application, certifies that the organization will comply with all applicable policies, assurances and/or certifications referenced in the application. Some of these requirements require the submission of a separate document to the appropriate federal office, including the civil rights assurance that must be submitted to the Office of Civil Rights. False certification that the required assurance is on file may render an applicant ineligible for award. If a grant is awarded on the basis of false or misrepresented information, or if a recipient does not comply with the assurances and certifications, NIH may take any necessary and appropriate actions for noncompliance, which may affect the recipient’s future funding.
NIH conducts a pre-award risk assessment for every applicant organizations by checking multiple federal-wide systems used for management and oversight of federal funding recipients. This includes checking the federal System for Award Management, among other resources, to determine if a recipient is eligible to receive an NIH award. NIH also queries the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System and the National External Audit Review Center to determine if the applicant organization is eligible and qualified to receive an NIH grant award. NIH reports all information on non-compliance into these systems, including violations of the NIH Grants Policy Statement, or violations of federal laws and regulations, such as civil rights protections.
The grantee institution is obligated to notify NIH if it takes an administrative action, such as placing an employee on leave or terminating employment, that affects the ability of an employee to continue as senior/key personnel on an NIH grant award.
If NIH indirectly learns of an allegation of sexual harassment, we immediately alert the recipient institution to verify issues and take all appropriate actions. If senior/key personnel on an NIH-funded grant are not in compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies, NIH can take several actions focused on the institution. These actions include requiring a change in senior personnel, or remedies for noncompliance, which can include suspension or termination of the grant award.
Generally, NIH takes into consideration all individuals involved in the circumstance, such as patients, employees, trainees, and in some cases, those affected by harassment supported by NIH funding.
While NIH does not have jurisdiction to intervene in personnel matters at third-party organizations, we take all allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and require that grantee institutions foster work environments conducive to high-quality research, a term and condition of NIH award. We urge people to report allegations to the appropriate authorities. (See Important Contacts, above.)
For more information on NIH’s commitment to creating and maintaining a work environment that is free of harassment and other inappropriate conduct, please see the NIH Anti-Sexual Harassment website.
Additional NIH Efforts
- NIH Open Mike Blog: NIH Policies to Address Sexual and Gender Harassment in NIH-supported Extramural Research. (September 2018)
NIH Director’s Statements
- Changing the Culture of Science to End Sexual Harassment (September 17, 2018)
- Additional Information on Sexual Harassment Policy at NIH (September 19, 2018)
- Advisory Committee to the Director: NIH Anti-Harassment Actions. Lawrence Tabak, NIH Deputy Director (June 2018 - see 4 hours and 34 minutes in the recording)
- Revised expectations for prevention of discrimination and harassment in NIH conference grants (first published in May 2016 under PA-16-294)
- Nature Correspondence: Policy: NIH Push to Stop Sexual Harassment. Michael Lauer, Hannah Valantine, and Francis Collins (March 2016)
- Fact Sheet for NIH Grantees: Know Your Rights - Federal Civil Rights Protections