Congress Strengthens NIH’s Ability to Address Harassment in Funded Activities

Earlier this week, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a press release on the agency’s efforts to end sexual harassment in the biomedical workforce. In 2018, a National Academies report found “no evidence that current policies, procedures, and approaches have significantly reduced sexual harassment in academic sciences, engineering, and medicine.”

Following the release of this report and congressional legislation, NIH and other federal research agencies instituted policies to respond to harassment and sexual harassment in the scientific workplace. “Guided by recommendations from the NIH Advisory Committee to then- Director Francis Collins, NIH implemented a number of changes aimed at ending harassment in all its forms – within the agency’s workforce and at the institutions funded by the agency.” These efforts included: (1) demonstrating accountability and transparency; (2) clarifying NIH’s expectations that funded institutions ensure a safe workplace free of harassment; and (3) establishing clear channels of communication to NIH to report harassment. The enactment of the 2022 Consolidate Appropriations Act (P.L. 117-103) has allowed NIH to take additional action in responding to and combatting harassment and sexual harassment in the biomedical workplace. The enacted law “mandates the NIH Director to require NIH-funded institutions to report to the NIH when individuals identified as principal investigator (PI) or as key personnel in an NIH notice of award are removed from their position or otherwise disciplined due to concerns about harassment, bullying, retaliation, or hostile working conditions.” Effective July 8, 2022, NIH is requiring notification by the Authorized Organization Representative at NIH-funded institutions within 30 days of the removal or disciplinary action against PI or key personnel.