EEOC Issues Its Awaited Study of Harassment in the Workplace

This week the EEOC Select Task Force issued its findings and recommendations following an 18 month study into the issues of harassment and its effect on workplaces in the United States.  During the course of its study the panel heard testimony and held public hearings to better understand harassment in the workplace.  The result of their findings are long and many are a bit difficult to agree with, but they are important to understand as they will likely be informative on the direction the EEOC takes with regard to investigating harassment claims before the agency.  Below is a brief summary of the findings in the report.

Key findings and statements from the task force:

  • Leadership and accountability are critical.  “Workplace culture has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, in preventing harassment.”
  • Training Must Change.  “Much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool - it's been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability.”… “Similarly, one size does not fit all: Training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace, and to different cohorts of employees.”

Key recommendations for employers from the task force:

  • “Employers should adopt and maintain a comprehensive anti-harassment policy (which prohibits harassment based on any protected characteristic, and which includes social media considerations) and should establish procedures consistent with the principles discussed in this report.”
  • “Employers should ensure that the anti-harassment policy, and in particular details about how to complain of harassment and how to report observed harassment, are communicated frequently to employees, in a variety of forms and methods.”
  • “Employers should offer reporting procedures that are multi-faceted, offering a range of methods, multiple points-of-contact, and geographic and organizational diversity where possible, for an employee to report harassment.”
  • “Employers should be alert for any possibility of retaliation against an employee who reports harassment and should take steps to ensure that such retaliation does not occur.”
  • “Employers should periodically ‘test’ their reporting system to determine how well the system is working.”
  • “Employers should devote sufficient resources so that workplace investigations are prompt, objective, and thorough. Investigations should be kept as confidential as possible, recognizing that complete confidentiality or anonymity will not always be attainable.”
  • “Employers should ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is prompt and proportionate to the behavior(s) at issue and the severity of the infraction. Employers should ensure that discipline is consistent, and does not give (or create the appearance of) undue favor to any particular employee.”
  • “Employers should dedicate sufficient resources to train middle-management and first-line supervisors on how to respond effectively to harassment that they observe, that is reported to them, or of which they have knowledge or information - even before such harassment reaches a legally-actionable level.”
  • “Employers should foster an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated, and in which respect and civility are promoted. Employers should communicate and model a consistent commitment to that goal.”
  • “Employers should assess their workplaces for the risk factors associated with harassment and explore ideas for minimizing those risks.”
  • “Employers should conduct climate surveys to assess the extent to which harassment is a problem in their organization.”
  • “Employers should devote sufficient resources to harassment prevention efforts, both to ensure that such efforts are effective, and to reinforce the credibility of leadership's commitment to creating a workplace free of harassment.”
  • “Employers should ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is prompt and proportionate to the severity of the infraction. In addition, employers should ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is consistent, and does not give (or create the appearance of) undue favor to any particular employee.”
  • “Employers should hold mid-level managers and front-line supervisors accountable for preventing and/or responding to workplace harassment, including through the use of metrics and performance reviews.”
  • “If employers have a diversity and inclusion strategy and budget, harassment prevention should be an integral part of that strategy.”
 
 
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