Frequently Asked Questions

What is sexual harassment?

Actions contributing to sexual harassment include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can be committed by anyone — men or women, against men or women, and by a supervisor, co-worker, subordinate, or non-employee.

In Education, sexual harassment is actionable under Title IX when it is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, that it undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, such that the victims are effectively denied equal access to an institution's resources and opportunities.*

In Employment, sexual harassment is unlawful when it is so severe and pervasive that a reasonable person would consider it a hostile or intimidating work environment or when enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment.

*Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629, 649 (1999).

If I work on an NIH-funded project, who can I contact if I believe I have experienced sexual harassment?

If there are concerns that sexual harassment is affecting an NIH-funded project, we want to know about it. Since NIH is not a law enforcement agency, we also strongly encourage people to report allegations of sexual harassment or assault to the appropriate authorities. Help is available from your local police department, your institution’s Equal Employment Opportunity or Human Resources office, the HHS Office for Civil Rights, and the NIH.  Learn how these organizations can help. Learn more on our Find Help page

When is it appropriate for NIH awardee organizations to contact NIH?

If a principal investigator or other key personnel named on an NIH grant award is no longer able to fulfill their obligations to conduct research because they are under investigation or have been removed from the workplace because of sexual harassment concerns, NIH requires institutions to notify NIH of this change.

For concerns related to NIH-funded research, an email can be sent to

It is important to identify the person(s) who may have committed harassment and the institution that employs him/her/them. Notification may be done anonymously.

While NIH can and will follow up on all concerns related to NIH-funded research, we cannot take personnel or legal actions for non-NIH employees.

Learn what to expect when notifying NIH.

What will NIH do in response to a notification of a concern about sexual harassment?

If the concern involves personnel on an NIH funded project, NIH will contact the grantee organization to ensure they are addressing the issue. Learn more about what to expect when notifying NIH.

What government agency has jurisdiction over civil rights complaints for HHS?

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) promotes and ensures equal access to, and the opportunity to participate in, programs funded by HHS, which includes NIH. OCR carries out this mission by enforcing Federal laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age and sex in programs and activities that receive financial assistance from HHS. OCR ensures compliance by investigating complaints, conducting compliance reviews, providing technical assistance, and conducting outreach nationwide. For more information, see How OCR Enforces Civil Rights Discrimination Laws and Regulations.

You may contact OCR, and may file a complaint with OCR, if you believe that you have been discriminated against because of your race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, or religion in programs or activities that HHS directly operates or to which HHS provides federal financial assistance.

What is the role of NIH awardee organizations in complying with civil rights protections against sexual harassment?

Before NIH makes an award to a domestic organization, the Authorized Organization Representative (AOR) must certify, by means of the signature on the application that the organization has on file with the HHS OCR a one-time submission of assurance of compliance with the civil rights statutes.

Recipients of NIH awards must comply with a number of public policy requirements related to civil rights, including:

All awardee organizations are required to have a Title IX coordinator on their campus. The organization may investigate a complaint on their own or refer it to OCR.

Awardee organizations may have a designated official who is responsible for assisting individuals with civil rights concerns or questions. Some organizations also provide opportunities for mediation. Filing a complaint with the institution is not a prerequisite to filing a complaint with OCR and seeking assistance from the organization in no way precludes filing these complaints with OCR.

If there is an allegation of sexual harassment by senior/key personnel named on an NIH grant, what is the awardee organization’s responsibility to notify NIH?

If an awardee organization seeks to remove or change the status of senior/key personnel named on the notice of award from an NIH-funded project due to civil rights violations, the organization must notify NIH and the replacement personnel must be approved by NIH.

Can NIH take money away from an awardee organization when there is a finding of sexual harassment on senior personnel listed in the notice of award?

The NIH grants are awarded to organizations, not to individual investigators. Typically, in an instance where the principal investigator or co-principal investigator named on the notice of award is placed on administrative leave because of the need to investigate an allegation of sexual harassment, the awardee organization would request a change of senior/key personnel supporting the NIH grant. If NIH learns that an awardee organization is not enforcing the terms and conditions of award, NIH may take an enforcement action within our oversight authorities, which may include suspending or even terminating the grant. NIH generally seeks to work with the awardee organization as appropriate, to help bring them back into compliance with the terms and conditions of the award. Depending on the circumstances, NIH can also consider enforcement action such as suspension of funding, or we can coordinate with other offices including law enforcement or the HHS Office of Inspector General, to consider a referral for debarment or suspension.

This page last reviewed on August 23, 2019