The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) new report on sexual harassment data for fiscal year (FY) 2018 shows a more than 50 percent increase in sexual harassment lawsuits filed by the agency and a more than 12 percent increase in the number of charges it received over FY 2017.
What should employers take from the new figures? Allison Williams, an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Bridgeport, West Virginia, says they should continue prioritizing “a shift in workplace culture by encouraging dialogue . . . concerning appropriate and professional workplace behavior, disseminating easy-to-use procedures for reporting sexual harassment, and taking prompt action to investigate claims of harassment.”
The EEOC’s release of the report, What You Should Know: EEOC Leads the Way in Preventing Workplace Harassment, comes a year after news of the Harvey Weinstein scandal that thrust sexual harassment into the spotlight, “so it is unsurprising that the number of charges received and lawsuits filed by the EEOC are up in 2018, given the press coverage of the #MeToo movement and the focus the agency has put on sexual harassment in the workplace,” Williams says.
The number of sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC had been on a decline from 2010 through 2017, Williams says, “so the increase in claims is not without significance.” She predicts the increase likely will hit a plateau “as employers continue to focus on eradicating harassment from the workplace and engaging their employees in discussions about harassment in the workplace.”
Employers Taking Harassment Claims Seriously
Juanita Beecher, an attorney with Fortney & Scott, LLC in Washington, D.C., says the employer response to #MeToo is keeping claims to the EEOC from taking an even bigger jump. Employers are taking harassment allegations seriously and often resolving problems before they end up as EEOC claims, she says.
Beecher stresses that employers need to make sure all employees are trained on what constitutes harassment and what to do if it occurs. Civility training also is recommended. Plus, employers need to devise good policies and reporting procedures that make it easy for people to report allegations. For example, employees need more than one way to report so that the employer’s rules allow alternatives to employees having to report to a supervisor who may be the harasser.
Beecher suggests employers review recommendations from the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The task force issued its report in June 2016 and then reconvened in June 2018 to build on the previous work.
Beecher says employers need to understand the importance of the issue and research showing that just one sexual harassment claim “has a huge impact on the employer’s reputation.” Therefore, harassment claims need to be taken seriously and dealt with as quickly as possible.
The EEOC’s announcement, released October 4, reports preliminary data for 2018. Statistics include:
- The agency filed 66 harassment lawsuits, including 41 that contained allegations of sexual harassment. That reflects more than a 50 percent increase over FY 2017 in sexual harassment suits.
- Charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by more than 12 percent from FY 2017.
- Overall, the EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for sexual harassment victims through litigation and administrative enforcement in FY 2018, up from $47.5 million in FY 2017.
The EEOC’s announcement also recommended its training program, Respectful Workplaces, which teaches skills for employees and supervisors to promote and contribute to respect in the workplace. The agency says more than 9,000 employees and supervisors in the private, public, and federal-sector workforces participated in Respectful Workplaces trainings during FY 2018, and an additional 13,000 employees participated in EEOC’s antiharassment compliance trainings.
Tammy Binford writes and edits news alerts and newsletter articles on labor and employment law topics for BLR web and print publications.