EEOC Issues “Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment”
In this climate of heightened awareness of harassment issues, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued an online resource, Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment.
The resource is based on the 2016 Report of the Co-Chairs of EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The report identifies five core principles effective in preventing and addressing harassment:
- Committed and engaged leadership;
- Consistent and demonstrated accountability;
- Strong and comprehensive harassment policies;
- Trusted and accessible complaint procedures; and
- Regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization.
The reports also contains various checklists to assist employers in complying with these core principles, and the promising practices now identified by the EEOC are based on those checklists. The EEOC notes that the practices are not legally required but may enhance employer’s compliance efforts. The EEOC’s recommendations are detailed and lengthy, but we summarize some of the more significant ones as follows, grouped by category:
Leadership and Accountability
Senior leaders should demonstrate commitment to creating and maintaining a culture in which harassment is not tolerated by:
- Clearly, frequently, and unequivocally stating that harassment is prohibited;
- Incorporating enforcement of, and compliance with, the organization’s harassment and other discrimination policies and procedures into the organization’s operational framework;
- Allocating sufficient resources for effective harassment prevention strategies;
- Providing appropriate authority to individuals responsible for creating, implementing, and managing harassment prevention strategies;
- Assessing harassment risk factors and taking steps to minimize or eliminate those risks; and
- Engaging organizational leadership in harassment prevention and correction efforts.
In addition, the EEOC recommends that senior leaders ensure that the organization has a comprehensive harassment policy that is communicated to all, has an accessible complaint system, conducts manager and employee training, and ensures proportionate discipline for violations. The EEOC further recommends that senior leaders exercise appropriate oversight of the harassment policy, complaint system, training, and any related preventive and corrective efforts, and that the leaders also seek feedback about their anti-harassment efforts.
Comprehensive and Effective Harassment Policy
The EEOC states that a policy should be regularly communicated to all employees, and should include statements such as:
- The policy applies to all levels within the organization and third parties like clients and customers;
- Descriptions and examples of prohibited conduct;
- Explanation of the complaint system, including multiple reporting avenues;
- The employer will provide a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation;
- Ensuring confidentiality to the extent possible;
- Proportionate disciplinary action will be taken; and
- Retaliation is prohibited.
The EEOC also suggests that the policy be written and communicated in clear and easily-understood language and format, be translated into all languages commonly used by employees, be provided upon hire and in trainings, be posted in various common areas and contained in the handbook, and be periodically updated.
Effective and Accessible Harassment Complaint System
The EEOC suggests that an effective harassment complaint system should include the following:
- The organization is enabled to respond promptly, thoroughly, and effectively to complaints;
- The complaint system is translated into all languages commonly used by employees;
- It provides multiple avenues of complaint;
- It provides prompt, thorough, and neutral investigations;
- It provides confidentiality, to the extent possible.
- It ensures that retaliation is prohibited and addressed.
- It includes appropriate follow up with the complainant and harasser.
The EEOC also recommends that organizations ensure, among other things, that the employees responsible for the harassment complaint system are trained, objective, and neutral, and that they have the authority to address complaints appropriately.
Effective Harassment Training
The EEOC recommends regular, interactive, comprehensive training of all employees, which should include the following aspects: support from senior leaders, easily understood and provided in languages commonly used by employees, tailored to the specific workforce, conducted by live and interactive trainers if possible, and evaluated by participants and revised as necessary. The EEOC suggests the actual training should cover the following:
- Descriptions of prohibited harassment and potential harassment
- Examples that are tailored to the specific workplace and workforce;
- Information about employees’ rights and responsibilities under the law;
- Encouragement for employees to report harassing conduct;
- Explanations of the complaint process, as well as any voluntary alternative dispute resolution processes;
- Explanations of the information that may be requested during an investigation, including: the name or a description of the alleged harasser(s), alleged victim(s), and any witnesses; the date(s), the location(s), and a description of the alleged harassment;
- Assurance that employees will not be subjected to retaliation;
- Explanations of the range of possible consequences for harassment;
- Opportunities to ask questions; and
- Contact information for the individual(s) and/or office(s) responsible for addressing harassment questions, concerns, and complaints.
The EEOC recommends that managers and supervisors receive additional training that includes:
- Information about how to prevent, identify, stop, report, and correct harassment;
- An unequivocal statement that retaliation is prohibited, along with an explanation of the types of conduct that are protected from retaliation under federal employment discrimination laws; and
- Explanations of the consequences of failing to fulfill their responsibilities related to harassment, retaliation, and other prohibited conduct.
Finally, the EEOC suggests that employers may consider and implement new forms of training, such as workplace civility or respectful workplace training and/or bystander intervention training. This ties back to the EEOC’s recent announcement that it was launching a new training program on respectful workplaces.