EEOC Task Force Issues Report on Harassment in the Workplace

August 22, 2016

By: John M. Bagyi

In 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received almost 28,000 charges of discrimination alleging workplace harassment -- a number that has remained relatively constant over the last five years.  In response, the EEOC formed a Select Task Force -- comprised of member representatives from multi-disciplinary backgrounds -- who spent the past year strategizing to find innovative solutions. The culmination of that effort -- the "Report of the Co-Chairs of the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace" -- was recently released.  The Report discusses how employers might reduce harassment concerns by proactively focusing on unwelcome conduct and targeting behavior that, if "left unchecked, may set the stage for unlawful harassment." The Report provides comprehensive recommendations that target harassment from all angles.  The findings demonstrate that while training sessions are essential, they should not be focused on merely avoiding legal liability.  Instead, employers should tailor programs to meet the particular needs of the company, developing a "holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top" and holds all levels of employees accountable for their role in prevention.  "One size does not fit all" and unique programs are needed to "ensure that those who engage in harassment are held responsible in a meaningful, appropriate, and proportional manner, and that those whose job it is to prevent or respond to harassment should be rewarded for doing that job well (or penalized for failing to do so)." The Report provides practical resources, including checklists and a "risk factor" analysis, to help employers assess their organization and respond appropriately. Finally, the Report proposes exploring new approaches to anti-harassment trainings, including "bystander intervention trainings" -- that give employees tools to intervene when they witness harassing behavior -- and "civility trainings" -- that foster a general culture of respect and workplace civility aimed at all employees, regardless of whether a person falls into a legally protected class. Employers would be well-advised to review the Task Force’s Report and recommendations and determine if additional workplace training is warranted.  If you determine that additional workplace training is necessary, please contact your labor and employment counsel at Bond to discuss our training capabilities. Editor's Note:  Mara Afzali, one of Bond's Summer Law Clerks, assisted in the preparation of this blog post.