Is your workplace ready for a complete review of your organization’s policies and practices in preventing harassment?  Your road map was just released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). 

For the past 18 months, the EEOC has been studying harassment policies and practices.  Many employers were not aware this was happening, but in early 2015 the EEOC convened the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.  On June 20, 2016, the Co-Chairs of the Select Task Force, both EEOC commissioners, delivered their report of the study’s conclusion.  It offers a critical look at employer prevention efforts, and offers massive recommendations for what employers should do in the future. 

The report begins by recognizing that harassment prevention efforts are decades old, yet harassment still exists, and may in fact be increasing.  The Select Task Force begins with the question:  is there something we’ve been missing?  The conclusion:  “We want to reboot workplace harassment prevention efforts” (i.e., start anew).  

EEOC harassment charges are based upon sex, but also many other types of harassment including race, disability, ethnicity, religion, etc.  The Task Force report notes that only sexual harassment has been studied in any depth, and there are gaps in our knowledge and research on that subject as well.  They noted that there is a lack of research or study of other types of harassment.  In their study, the Select Task Force made the following general observations: 

  • Workplace Harassment Remains a Persistent Problem: Nearly one third of the EEOC charges in FY2015 involved harassment.  Despite many years of focusing upon prevention, harassment is still prevalent in the reported cases.
  • Workplace Harassment Too Often Goes Unreported:  Even more disturbing than the reported cases is the recognition that harassment charges are often just the small tip of the iceberg.  Many harassment situations go unreported – this study indicates perhaps as many as 75% of cases go unreported.
  • There is a Compelling Business Case for Stopping and Preventing Harassment:  In addition to legal costs, there is an identifiable cost in terms of mental, physical and economic harm to productivity, turnover and reputation.
  • It Starts at the Top – Leadership and Accountability Are Critical:  The study recommends that harassment efforts have to include accountability systems at all levels of the organization, most importantly at the top and in the supervisory ranks.
  • Training Must Change:  The study recognizes that much of the training effort has not made an impact because it has been too focused on avoiding legal liability (compliance) rather than training as part of a holistic culture of non-harassment geared to the specific circumstances of the workforce.
  • New and Different Approaches to Training Should Be Explored:  The study recommends looking at strategies like bystander intervention training or civility training.
  • It’s on Us:  The study signals a broad effort to take responsibility for stopping harassment, and seek employer cooperation in that effort.

    Given the comprehensive scope of this study, and the many recommendations, we can expect to see a significant rise in EEOC efforts to help employers examine and implement many of the recommendations.  The many recommendations will be explored in future blog posts, but here are a few: 

  • Employers should foster an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated, and respect and civility are promoted.
  • Employers should assess their workplaces for risk factors and explore ideas for minimizing risks of harassment.
  • Employers should work to improve accountability structures, look for more effective training approaches, and devote resources to assuring prompt investigation and appropriate resolution of complaints, without retaliation.
  • The consequences of not taking these recommendations seriously could be significant as this signals the future of harassment prevention regulation. 

    Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other employment issues facing your company.