Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Recommendations on Harassment in the Workforce

September 26, 2016  |  Benefits Connection
Benefits Connection

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1964 to eradicate discrimination in employment. The various statutes enforced by the Commission prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, retaliation, age, and disability or protected veteran status.

The EEOC has authority to investigate charges of discrimination filed against employers who have a statutory number of employees. The EEOC’s role in an investigation is to fairly and accurately evaluate allegations in light of all the evidence obtained, and attempt to settle the charge if discrimination has occurred.

The EEOC created a select task force to study harassment in the workplace in the United States. The findings of the task force were released in June 2016. The following is a synopsis of the task force’s recommendations.

Recommendations Regarding Workplace Leadership and Accountability

a) 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.

b) Employers should assess their workplaces for the risk factors associated with harassment and explore ideas for minimizing those risks.

c) Employers should conduct climate surveys to assess the extent to which harassment is a problem in their organization.

d) 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.

e) Employers should ensure that where harassment has been found to have occurred, discipline is prompt and proportionate to the severity of the infraction. In addition, employers should ensure that where harassment has been found to have occurred, discipline is consistent, and does not give (or create the appearance of) undue favor to any particular employee.

f) 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.

g) If employers have a diversity and inclusion strategy and budget, harassment prevention should be an integral part of that strategy.

Recommendations Regarding Harassment Prevention Policies and Procedures

a) 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.

b) 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.

c) 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.

d) 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.

e) Employers should periodically “test” their reporting system to determine how well the system is working.

f) 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.

g) 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.

h) In unionized workplaces, the labor union should ensure that its own policy and reporting system meet the principles outlined in this section.

i) Groups of employers should consider coming together to offer researchers access to their workplaces to research the effectiveness of their policies, reporting systems, investigative procedures, and corrective actions put into place by those employers, in a manner that would allow research data to be aggregated in a manner that would not identify individual employers.

For more information regarding this study, please contact your SHERRILL MORGAN account manager.