With workplace harassment claims on the rise, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently recommended practical steps and policies to help employers reduce the number of charges filed. Harassment claims constitute approximately one-third of all charges filed with the EEOC in recent years and can take a devastating toll on employers.
Task Force’s Findings
The EEOC recently convened a task force to investigate harassment in the workplace. The task force found that almost one-third of the 90,000 discrimination charges the EEOC received in 2015 involved workplace harassment. It concluded that workplace harassment remains a “persistent problem.” While the task force found that several factors contribute to workplace harassment, it reported that three main areas need to be addressed for incidents of harassment to decline.
First, the task force determined that management must have a stronger commitment to ensuring that workplace harassment is not tolerated. Second, it concluded that employers must have established policies and practices in place to hold employees accountable for engaging in harassing conduct and to permit employees to report harassing conduct.
Third, and most important, the task force found that employers need to shift antiharassment training efforts from pure litigation avoidance to actual harassment prevention. The task force believes training is most effective when it is tailored to the specific workforce and workplace and when middle managers and frontline supervisors, whom it says are employers’ most valuable resource in preventing harassment, are trained correctly.
The task force recommends that training include “bystander intervention training,” which empowers coworkers to intervene when they witness harassing behavior, and workplace “civility training,” which focuses on promoting respect and civility in the workplace.
Consistent with the EEOC’s instructive guidance, all employers are strongly encouraged to assess their workplaces for risk factors associated with harassment and develop tools to minimize those risks. Ensure that you have an antiharassment policy and complaint procedure in place so employees know how to report harassment.
Further, conduct regular harassment training for all employees. I recommend that employers provide workers training at least once per year and remind employees of the procedures for reporting harassment under their complaint procedure at least twice per year. Based on the EEOC’s recommendations, you should include workplace civility and bystander intervention training as part of your overall harassment prevention program.
Employers are advised to consult with competent legal counsel or HR organizations that provide comprehensive harassment training programs that satisfy the recommendations in the task force’s report.
Also, conduct an internal assessment to determine whether your workplace has certain risk factors that make harassment more likely to occur. Review your employee handbook and harassment policies and procedures to ensure that they are adequate, legal, and effective. Finally, train your entire workforce, focusing on both the traditional objective of minimizing liability and the EEOC’s new emphasis on workplace civility and bystander intervention.
For more information on the EEOC’s guidance, see “Can Civility Training Prevent Workplace Harassment?“.