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For the past year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been investigating and evaluating the prevalence of workplace harassment around the country. Led by Commissioners Chai Feldblum and Victoria Lipnic, the EEOC recently released a report outlining its findings and recommendations for eliminating harassment in the workplace.
In 2015, the EEOC received approximately 90,000 charges, with nearly one-third involving a complaint of workplace harassment. Workplace harassment has been considered a form of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson in 1986. Harassment in the workplace can come in many forms, including inappropriate conduct based on sex, race, disability, age, ethnicity/national origin, color, and religion.
The EEOC noted that many incidents of workplace harassment go unreported by employees. Many individuals, particularly those who experience sex-based harassment, tend to “avoid the harasser, deny or downplay the gravity of the situation, or attempt to ignore, forget, or endure the behavior.” Although the most effective way of stopping harassment is to report it, formal action by employees, whether internally or externally, has consistently been the least common response – an estimated 75% of people who have experienced harassment never reported it. The agency found that many employees fear some form of retribution if they report the harassment. And, many employees believe their claims will not be taken seriously.
Beyond ensuring a safe environment for all of their employees, another incentive for employers to stop workplace harassment is the economic and reputational impact it can have on an organization. In 2015 alone, the EEOC recovered $164.5 million from companies embroiled in harassment lawsuits as a result of resolution. The report notes, however, that such legal fees are “just the tip of the iceberg.” Harassment also leads to “decreased productivity, increased turnover, and reputational harm” that can negatively impact companies beyond the monetary costs associated with defending a harassment claim.
After reviewing and analyzing the results of its investigation, the EEOC made a variety of recommendations centered on the formation of an all-out campaign titled: “It’s On Us.” Similar to the campaign of the same name that aims to curb sexual assault on high school and college campuses, the EEOC hopes that its similar campaign will help draw attention to the dangers and prevalence of workplace harassment. The agency’s campaign will focus on three key goals: “increasing bystander intervention, defining consent, and creating an environment to support survivors.”
The EEOC noted that a change in workplace culture “starts at the top.” The leadership of a company often defines what behavior is or is not acceptable, and this new report is a call-to-action for employers everywhere to reevaluate their harassment policies. The agency suggests implementing new policies and training that teach the dangers of harassment and highlight the reporting systems in place. The EEOC recommends frequent communication with employees about the policies and says that the policies should be readily accessible. The EEOC urges employers to discipline harassers promptly, utilizing methods and practices that are proportionate to the harassing behavior. Such punishments should be consistent so as not to appear to show favoritism.
If you have questions regarding the EEOC’s harassment report or other employment law issues, please contact Connie Carrigan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connie Elder Carrigan is a partner in the firm, with a practice concentration in Business Law. Her focus is assisting clients with issues regarding employment law, business advice and litigation, construction law, equipment leasing and creditor bankruptcy. Connie has lectured on topics ranging from employment law, bankruptcy, and equipment leasing to construction law....LEARN MORE