• EEOC Issues Workplace Harassment Report with Suggested Best Practices
  • July 23, 2016
  • Law Firm: - Office
  • Following a 14 month study involving academic representatives, legal practitioners on both the plaintiff and defense side, employer and employee advocacy groups, and organized labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a report on workplace harassment.

    According to the report, almost one-third of the roughly 90,000 charges filed with EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included some type of an allegation of harassment. Nonetheless, the EEOC stated that most times harassment goes unreported because employees fear their claims will not be believed or investigated, and because they are fearful of social or professional retaliation.

    The EEOC’s report states that employers should explore new types of training to prevent harassment, including workplace civility and bystander intervention training. Training should also be a part of what the EEOC refers to as a “holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top” and be tailored to a specific workforce.

    The report includes the following recommendations for employers:
    • Workplace leadership and accountability: assess workplaces for risk factors associated with harassment; conduct “climate surveys” to assess the extent to which harassment is a problem; devote resources to harassment prevention efforts; ensure that where harassment is found that discipline is prompt and proportionate; and hold mid-level managers and front-line supervisors accountable for preventing and/or responding to workplace harassment.
    • Harassment prevention policies and procedures: adopt and maintain an anti-harassment policy which includes social media considerations (the anti-harassment policy should detail how to make complaints and should provide employees with various procedures for reporting); and devote resources to ensure that workplace investigations are prompt, objective, and thorough.
    • Compliance Training: offer on a regular basis compliance trainings; and dedicate sufficient resources to train middle management and first-line supervisors on how to respond effectively to harassment.
    • Workplace Civility and Bystander Intervention Training: consider including workplace civility and bystander intervention topics as part of a holistic harassment prevention program.
    In addition, the report recommends that the EEOC should, as a best practice, seek as part of settlement agreements the inclusion of provisions that researchers: (1) be allowed to work with the employer in assessing policies, reporting systems, investigative procedures, and corrective actions; (2) assess the climate and level of harassment in workplaces before and after implementation of compliance trainings; and (3) work with the employer in assessing the efficacy of workplace civility training and/or bystander intervention training on reducing the level of harassment in the workplace. Going forward, employers should be aware that this may be something that is included in a proposed conciliation agreement, consent decree, or other type of settlement with the EEOC.

    The report also stated that the EEOC and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) should confer to clarify the interplay of the National Labor Relations Act and federal EEO statutes with regard to permissible confidentiality of workplace investigations, the permissible scope of policies regulating workplace social media usage, and the permissible content of civility codes. Currently, employers sometimes find themselves trying to comply with the NLRB’s requirements that can appear to be in conflict with their legal obligations under EEO statutes. Hopefully, the EEOC’s initiative in this regard will clarify employers’ obligations.