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VA EEO, Diversity and Inclusion Policy

November 17, 2016


SUBJECT: The Equal Employment Opportunity, Diversity and Inclusion, No FEAR, and Whistleblower Rights and Protection Policy Statement

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) success in supporting our Veterans and their families requires the commitment, talent, and engagement of our entire diverse workforce. Each of us in VA must commit to creating a work environment characterized by equity and inclusion. We must also ensure that our conduct and communications are consistent with our Core Values—Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence—to cultivate a civil workplace free from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

At VA, we share a noble mission to serve our Nation’s Veterans. To serve Veterans well, we must sustain an environment where everyone is valued and treated with dignity and respect. Employees who experience or witness inappropriate conduct, harassment, or unlawful discrimination are encouraged to report such behavior to their supervisor. Alternatively, they may use the avenues provided in this Policy Statement. This document serves as a resource for VA’s policies and protections applicable to maintaining an equitable and inclusive workplace.

As Secretary, I am personally committed to ensuring that VA is free from discrimination and harassment, and I expect every VA executive, manager, and supervisor to take prompt, appropriate, and effective action when faced with behaviors that are inconsistent with our standards and laws. Managers must create an environment where all employees feel safe to raise concerns and are protected from unlawful retaliation. Working together, we shall ensure equal employment opportunity and sustain an inclusive work environment that enables us to care for our Nation’s Veterans.

Robert A. McDonald


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Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
Equal Employment Opportunity, Diversity and Inclusion, No FEAR, and
Whistleblower Rights and Protection Policy Statement

VA is committed to ensuring Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), promoting workforce diversity, workplace inclusion, and constructively resolving conflict to sustain a high-performing organization in service to our Nation’s Veterans. VA will vigorously enforce all applicable Federal EEO laws, executive orders, and management directives in order to ensure equal opportunity in the workplace for all VA employees. This document summarizes VA’s EEO, Diversity and Inclusion, Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act (No FEAR), and Whistleblower Rights and Protection policies.

EEO and Prohibited Discrimination

VA does not tolerate unlawful discrimination, including workplace harassment, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including gender identity, transgender status, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, marital status, parental status, political affiliation, or retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices or participating in the discrimination-complaint process. This applies to all terms and conditions of employment, including recruitment, hiring, promotions, transfers, reassignments, training, career development, benefits, and separation.

Gender identity refers to an individual’s internal sense of being male or female. Transgender refers to people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from the sex assigned to them at birth. The General Services Administration (GSA), which governs use of Federal facilities, prohibits discrimination or segregation of any person because of his or her gender identity or transgender status by refusing to provide each person the use of any facility of a public nature, including all services, privileges, accommodations, and activities provided on the property. Accordingly, VA will not restrict, segregate, or otherwise discriminate against any individual on the basis of gender identity in the use of public facilities.

Prohibited Workplace Harassment Covered by EEO Laws

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2009. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceedings, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

Harassment by or against VA employees, applicants, contract employees, clients, customers, or anyone doing business with VA is strictly prohibited. Harassment becomes unlawful when: (1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a term or condition of continued employment, or (2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Harassment is considered unlawful conduct that is based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including gender identity, transgender status, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, marital status, parental status, political affiliation, or retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices or participating in the discrimination-complaint process.

Harassment extends to harassing comments posted on social media, such as Internet sites. It is the duty of an employer to protect its employees from unlawful harassment, if there is a connection with the workplace. This duty is unaffected by the location where harassment occurs, on or off the worksite, including in cyberspace. The duty remains the same; supervisors must intervene and take prompt and effective corrective action to end the harassment.

Sexual harassment is a form of workplace harassment that is prohibited and will not be tolerated in VA. Analogous to other forms of workplace harassment, it involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: (1) submission to or rejection of such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of one’s employment; (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by a person is used as a basis for career or employment decisions affecting that person; or (3) such conduct interferes with an individual’s performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Supervisors or managers who observe or are notified of harassing conduct are required to assess the situation immediately and consult with their local Anti-Harassment Coordinator or the Anti-Harassment Office within the VA Office of Resolution Management (ORM). It is the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure every employee is aware of the anti-harassment policy and reporting procedures. This means supervisors should disseminate and enforce an anti-harassment policy and reporting procedures and take other responsible steps to promptly prevent and correct harassment. It is also the supervisor’s responsibility to conduct an effective inquiry of a harassment allegation and initiate appropriate corrective actions as warranted.

Employees have multiple avenues to report harassing conduct: (1) contact your internal departmental resources, including but not limited to your first line supervisor or the next level in your supervisory chain if the harassment involves your direct supervisor; (2) contact the local Anti-Harassment Coordinator for your office; or (3) contact the ORM Anti-Harassment Office at (888) 566-3982.

EEO Complaint Process

Employees and applicants for employment seeking redress under the EEO complaint process must contact an EEO counselor in VA’s ORM in person, by phone, or in writing within 45 calendar days of the date of the alleged discriminatory event. ORM is responsible for administering an impartial and effective complaints management process to receive, resolve, and investigate complaints of employment discrimination at the earliest possible stage, in accordance with the regulations governing the Federal EEO complaint process, (29 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1614). Employees may initiate the complaint process by calling ORM at (888) 737-3361.

Employees may also raise allegations of discrimination to their supervisor or a management official in their chain of command, or they may raise discrimination issues through the VA Negotiated Process, Administrative Grievance Process, or the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) as appropriate. While an allegation of discrimination may be raised through these additional avenues, this action does not constitute initiation of an EEO complaint with an EEO counselor through the Federal sector EEO complaint process, and it does not extend the 45 calendar-day time limit to initiate with ORM an EEO complaint.

Complaints of discrimination filed on the basis of marital status or political affiliation may be investigated as prohibited personnel practices and are processed under the jurisdiction of the MSPB or the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Complaints filed on the basis of parental status may be processed through ORM. While parental status is not covered under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations, it is also a form of prohibited discrimination involving Federal employees. If a complaint is filed on this basis, it will be processed by ORM, and a final agency decision will be rendered by the VA’s Office of Employment Discrimination Complaint Adjudication (OEDCA).

Conflict Management and Alternative Dispute Resolution

Workplace conflict is often the result of miscommunication or creative tension in the organization. Properly managed, it can yield improvements in business processes and positive outcomes in the organizational climate. It is important we maintain an organizational culture in VA that does not suppress creative conflict or constructive dissent. To maintain a respectful, productive, and effective work environment, it is VA’s policy to address and resolve workplace disputes and EEO complaints at the earliest possible stage. VA offers Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services such as mediation, facilitation, and conflict management coaching to assist parties in constructively resolving disputes. ADR involves a neutral third party working with the employee, supervisor, or group to engage in constructive communication, identify issues, and develop collaborative solutions. Employees and supervisors are encouraged to consult with their ADR Program Manager, or refer to VA’s ADR Directive 5978 for guidance and assistance in resolving workplace disputes of any kind.

Prohibited Workplace Violence and Bullying

Workplace violence, the threat of violence, or bullying of workers is strictly prohibited. This type of prohibited behavior can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults. Bullying conduct includes fighting, verbal and non-verbal hate messages, threats, or expression of intention to inflict harm, and abusive, offensive, unprofessional, intimidating, slanderous, malicious, derogatory, or otherwise inappropriate or unacceptable language or other behavior intended to degrade or humiliate a particular person or group of people. Any employee who is subject to bullying behavior or other workplace violence should immediately report the matter to his or her supervisor or another appropriate official. It is the duty of the supervisors to intervene and take prompt and effective corrective action to end the bullying conduct to prevent workplace violence.

Violence in the workplace is an occupational safety hazard citable under Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards and under VA Directive 7700. Under Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, and other Key Officials are required to implement a violence prevention program. VA’s Office of Administration oversees VA’s Occupational Safety and Health and Workers’ Compensation programs in support of VA’s Designated Agency Safety and Health Official.

Prohibited Personnel Practices

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, as amended, protects Federal Government applicants and employees from Prohibited Personnel Practices (PPP) including discrimination, coercion, intimidation, preferential treatment, and other prohibited practices in violation of merit systems principles. VA vigorously supports these protections. OSC is authorized to investigate and ensure that appropriate action is taken to correct prohibited conduct. Injured persons may bring actions before the MSPB, if OSC declines to act. The 13 PPPs are: Discrimination, Considering Inappropriate Recommendations, Coercing Political Activity, Obstructing Competition, Influencing Withdrawal from Competition, Granting Unfair Advantage, Nepotism, Whistleblower Retaliation, Other Retaliation, Other Discrimination, Violating Veterans Preference, Violating Rules that Implement a Merit System Principle, and Imposing a Nondisclosure Agreement that Doesn’t Allow Whistleblowing.


It is imperative that all VA employees, supervisors, and officials understand the protections afforded by the No FEAR Act of 2002, and the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. The No FEAR Act protects Federal employees from unlawful discrimination and retaliation for opposition to or participation in protected EEO or whistleblowing activity. VA will not tolerate discrimination or retaliation for engaging in protected EEO or whistleblowing activity.

Whistleblower Rights and Protection

The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 prohibits retaliation against employees or applicants for employment for reporting a violation of law, rule, or regulation; gross mismanagement; gross waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and special danger to public health or safety. Retaliation against individuals for whistle-blowing, opposing discrimination, or participating in the discrimination-complaint process is unlawful and will not be tolerated. This includes retaliation against complainants, witnesses, and others who provide information concerning such claims.

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 amended the law regarding whistleblowers’ rights by: (1) making a whistleblower’s oral disclosures legally sufficient, no longer must a disclosure be in writing; (2) making disclosures that fall within the whistleblower’s job duties an eligible basis of a whistleblower claim; (3) strengthening anti-retaliation restrictions; and (4) allowing damages that could be obtained by a whistleblower to include consequential damages such as emotional distress. Avenues of redress available to address claims of reprisal for whistleblowing include, but are not limited to, Congressional representatives, MSPB, and OSC. VA will not tolerate violations of the spirit or letter of these Federal statutes.

Every VA employee is responsible for safeguarding the privacy of Veterans and other individuals served by VA and for complying with laws that protect patient health information and other sensitive personal information. Be advised that a whistleblower disclosure of information is protected only if the release is not otherwise prohibited by law. Wrongful disclosure of sensitive personal information, such as medical or personnel records, may be subject to civil and criminal penalties as well as disciplinary or other adverse action.

A Whistleblower may:

  • Disclose VA sensitive personal information; i.e., individually identifiable information, to an outside entity in the course of reporting alleged violations of law, rule, regulation, or gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. Whistleblowers may always disclose any information to the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) or to a Congressional Committee or Subcommittee having oversight authority over VA.
  • Disclose any information, except information protected by 38 U.S.C. § 5705 (Quality Assurance) or by 38 U.S.C. § 7332 (HIV, Sickle Cell, Drug and Alcohol Treatment) to the Office of Special Counsel.
  • Never disclose information containing VA Sensitive Personal Information (SPI) to the media, a Veterans service organization, or any other member of the public.
  • Not disclose SPI to an attorney, even one who is representing them in the context of whistleblowing.

Reasonable Accommodations

VA is committed to the employment and retention of individuals with disabilities. All Federal employees and members of the public with disabilities must have access to and use of information and data, comparable to that of employees and members of the general public without disabilities, unless an undue hardship would be imposed on the agency. To that end, VA will vigorously enforce Sections 501, 504, 505, and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended, which mirror the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008. This includes maintaining accessibility of electronic and information technology for individuals with disabilities.

Title I (Employment) of the ADA is designed to help people with disabilities access the same employment opportunities and benefits available to people without disabilities. An important component in hiring and retaining individuals with disabilities is the provision of reasonable accommodations to employees and applicants on the basis of disability in accordance with law. For individuals with disabilities, a reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the manner work is accomplished that enables them to perform the essential functions of their jobs and enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment. The procedures for requesting and processing requests for reasonable accommodation are contained in VA Handbook 5975.1.

Reasonable accommodations may also include the use of properly trained service animals. A doctor’s note does not turn an animal into a service animal. A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The work or task performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy animals are not service animals under Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals and will not be permitted in VA facilities, unless expressly allowed as an exception under the regulation for activities such as animal-assisted therapy or for other reasons such as law enforcement purposes.

Additionally, Title III (Public Accommodations) of the ADA makes it clear that service animals are allowed in public facilities and accommodations. A service animal must be allowed to accompany the handler to any place in the building or facility where members of the public, program participants, customers, or clients are allowed. Even if the business or public program has a "no pets" policy, it may not deny entry to a person with a service animal.

Religious Accommodation

In accordance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, VA also provides religious accommodations to employees unless doing so imposes an undue hardship to the organization. Accommodations may include adjustments to work schedules to accommodate religious observances, allowances regarding religious attire, allowances to be excused from compulsory activities that conflict with the employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs or practices, and other modifications. Individuals who believe they need a religious accommodation should request the accommodation from their immediate supervisors.

Religious expression and exercise are permitted in the VA workplace provided that such expression does not suggest government endorsement or preference for one faith over another, interfere with efficient working of government operations, nor intrude upon the legitimate rights of other employees. For additional information visit: Guidance on Religious Exercise and Expression in VA Facilities and Property Under the Charge and Control of VA.

Language Usage

VA recognizes and respects the right of employees who speak languages other than English in the workplace outside of the performance of their work duties. Employees may speak another language when the conversation is not related to the performance of their duties; for example, when they are in the break room or making a personal telephone call.

EEOC has stated that rules requiring employees to speak English only in the workplace violate the law unless they are reasonably necessary to the operation of the business. A rule requiring employees to speak English only in the workplace at all times, including breaks and lunch time, should be limited to the circumstances in which it is needed for the employer to operate safely or efficiently. Circumstances in which an English-only rule may be justified include: communications with customers or coworkers who speak English only; emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety; or cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency. Even if there is a need for an English-only rule, supervisors may not take disciplinary action against employees for violating the rule unless VA has notified workers about the rule and the consequences of violating it.

Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994

An employee has the right to be reemployed in his or her civilian job, if he or she leaves a civilian job to perform service in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard, or other "uniformed services" as defined by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). USERRA ensures that persons who serve or have served in the uniformed services: (1) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their services in the uniformed service; (2) are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and (3) are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service.

Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act of 2015

Under the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act of 2015, disabled Veteran leave will be available to eligible Federal employees hired on or after November 5, 2016, and undergoing medical treatment of a qualifying service-connected disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty. VA is committed to supporting our service members who have sacrificed their own health and well-being to serve our country.

Mandatory EEO and Diversity & Inclusion Training

In order to sustain the fair, safe, and high performing culture these policies seek to create, VA employees must engage in continuous learning in these areas. VA is committed to educating its workforce on its EEO-related policies and workforce protections on a regular basis to maintain a discrimination-free workplace. VA requires that all employees take mandatory Prevention of Workplace Harassment Awareness and No FEAR Act training in the Talent Management System (TMS Item No. 8872) within 90 days of their initial hire and every 2 years thereafter.

In addition, all executives, managers and supervisors are required to take the mandatory biennial training on EEO, Diversity & Inclusion, and Conflict Management Training (TMS Item No. 1328672), and the mandatory biennial training on Whistleblower Rights and Protection and Prohibited Personnel Practices (TMS Item No. 3883649).

Diversity and Inclusion

To be a high performing organization, VA must cultivate an inclusive work culture and create an environment that reflects the rich diversity of our increasingly global community. Organizational inclusion involves leveraging the diversity of our workforce and empowering all of our employees to be fully engaged and to contribute to VA’s noble mission. Studies have shown that workplace inclusion drives employee engagement which yields higher organizational performance. To achieve full inclusion, we must also protect all voices and nurture a climate of psychological safety for all our human resources. Together, the principles of diversity and inclusion provide the cornerstones on which to build a high performing organization.

We all share the responsibility to promote and embed the complementary principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout VA, and embody VA’s Core Values of Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. I ask every VA employee to embrace these principles and values so that we can provide the best possible care and services to our Nation’s Veterans and their families.

/signed/                                                                                        11/17/2016         
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Date



Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967:

Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 1990:

Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended—Title VII:

Civil Service Reform Act of 1978—Prohibited Personnel Practices:

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2009:

Equal Pay Act of 1963, as amended:

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009:

Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002:

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978:

Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended:

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012:

Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994:

Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act of 2015:


Executive Order 13583, Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce:

Executive Order 11478, as amended by Executive Order 13152:
Extending protection based on parental status

Executive Order 13087, Expands equal employment policy in the Federal Government by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation:
Extending protection based on parental status

Executive Order 13548, Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities:


Alternative Dispute Resolution, VA Directive 5978, February 7, 2013:

EEO Discrimination Complaints Process, VA Directive 5977, May 5, 2011:

Diversity and Inclusion, Management Directive VA Directive 5975, March 29, 2013:

VA Handbook 5975.1, Processing Requests for Reasonable Accommodation by Employees and Applicants with Disabilities:

Occupational Safety and Health, VA Directive 7700, February 11, 2009:


Federal Management Regulation; Nondiscrimination Clarification in the Federal Workplace: federalworkplace?utm_campaign=email+a+friend&utm_medium=email&

OSHA Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender workers:

GSA: Federal Management Regulation; Nondiscrimination Clarification in the Federal Workplace Regarding Sex Discrimination to include Transgender Status:

EEOC Fact Sheet: Bathroom Access rights for Transgender Employees Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

OPM Guidance Regarding the Employment of Transgender Individuals in the Federal Workplace:

VA Establishment of Anti-Harassment Office:

Guidance on Religious Exercise and Expression in VA Facilities and Property Under the Charge and Control of VA:

White House Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace:

Guidance for Language Use by Employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs:

Office of Special Counsel Whistleblower Disclosures:

Whistleblower Rights and Protection:

Filing Whistleblower Disclosures:

Rules Regarding Service Animals in VA Facilities:

VA Workplace Alternative Dispute Resolution:

Violence in the Workplace: