EEOC Reviews Stopping Sexual Harassment in Workplace Culture

A young female victim of sexual harassment as she leaves the copy room at her workplace with an obvious look of unhappiness on her face.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing the nation’s federal sexual harassment and gender discrimination laws. In a recent public meeting, the agency recognized the best strategy for stopping sexual harassment in workplace culture is through prevention, not litigation. Now the agency has published materials for employers looking for new ways to promote a healthy workplace.

In this blog post, I will review the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s recent public meeting (held on October 31, 2018) entitled “Revamping Workplace Culture to Prevent Harassment.” I will discuss the EEOC’s preliminary FY2018 sexual harassment data and the steps taken by the agency to stop sexual harassment in workplace culture. I will also address options for the victims of sexual harassment for whom preventative efforts came too late.

EEOC Sees Sexual Harassment Complaints On the Rise in 2018

The EEOC released its preliminary sexual harassment data for the fiscal year 2018, and the results show a country ignited by the #MeToo movement. The EEOC experienced a 13.6% increase in sexual harassment charges within the agency and a 50% increase in sexual harassment lawsuits. Of the 66 lawsuits the EEOC filed, 41 involved sexual harassment complaints. All together, the EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for sexual harassment victims between conciliation and litigation. Visits to the EEOC’s sexual harassment webpage have also double over the past year.

Public Meeting Focuses on Prevention of Sexual Harassment in Workplace Culture

In light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the EEOC reconvened its Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace on June 11, 2018. The Special Task Force heard from experts across several industries about techniques and trends in prevention of sexual harassment in workplace culture.

Ultimately, that work culminated in a public meeting on Wednesday, October 31, 2018, in which another panel of experts discussed the need for a holistic approach to preventing sexual harassment. Those who testified emphasized that to stop sexual harassment, leaders need to be focused on changing the sexually charged cultures in some workplaces. They focused on training approaches and holistic solutions to the problem of sexual harassment. And they emphasized that any change must start from the top down.

"Leadership and accountability set the tone and the expectation that harassment will not be tolerated in a workplace," said Victoria A. Lipnic, Acting Chair [in a press release related to the meeting]. "Over the past year, we have seen far too many examples of significant gaps in both areas. Our witnesses today stressed how both leadership and accountability must also be driven throughout an organization from the line employees, to the supervisors, to the CEO, and to the Board."

The Special Task Force heard from:

  • Veronica Girón, of the Ya Basta Campaign, and Alejandra Valles, the Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU United Service Workers West, who testified to training for janitors on how to respond in the moment of sexual harassment.
  • David G. Bowman, a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Blocius, who spoke of the need for a multi-faceted campaign including leadership, workplace culture assessment, and inspirational training formats.
  • Anne Wallestad, of BoardSource, who spoke on how boards can provide leadership and accountability for their non-profit organizations.
  • Rob Buelow of EVERFI, who explained how live and web-based training can complement each other to create a harassment prevention program.
  • Christine Porath, a business professor at Georgetown University, who testified to the benefits of civility training.
  • Mary C. Gentile of Giving Voice to Values, who spoke of value-driven training.

EEOC Distributes Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment

The public meeting emphasized the need for employers to adopt proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment in workplace culture. In connection with the meeting, the EEOC published its Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment, which provides a guide to employers looking to adopt best practices at work. The report centered around five core principles which the EEOC had found effective in preventing and addressing harassment:

  1. “Commitment and engaged leadership;
  2. Consistent and demonstrated accountability;
  3. Strong and comprehensive harassment policies;
  4. Trusted and accessible complaint procedures; and
  5. Regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization.”

It provided best practices and strategies under each of the core principles, including:

  • Comprehensive, easy to understand, and regularly communicated harassment policies
  • Fully resourced complete systems including multiple means of reporting
  • Regular, tailored, effective training for employees, team leaders, supervisors, and managers
  • Prompt, consistent, and proportionate disciplinary responses to sexual harassment
  • Strong prohibitions against retaliation
  • Emphasis of confidentiality within the process

As a best practice, the EEOC recommends that any strategy be reviewed and updated regularly. The agency also recommended using anonymous employee surveys as a way to measure sexual harassment in workplace culture.

When Prevention Strategies are Not Enough

It takes time, and a concerted effort to change a hostile work environment prone to sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The EEOC’s 2018 statistics suggest that sexual harassment is not going away. For those who face discrimination now, there need to be clear paths to corrective action, both within and outside of the company. When employees face sexual harassment in workplace culture they need to feel safe:

  • Filing complaints with their HR department, supervisor, or union representative
  • Speaking to an employment discrimination attorney
  • Talking to coworkers and clients who may have witnessed the event
  • Filing an EEOC complaint
  • Starting a state or federal lawsuit to change workplace behavior

At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our experienced gender discrimination and sexual harassment attorneys have decades of experience protecting the women from sexual harassment in workplace culture. We use informal negotiation, arbitration, and traditional Title VII litigation to advocate for innovative prevention strategies to protect our clients and make their offices and work sites better places to work. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

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