How the Effects of the #MeToo Movement Changed the EEOC Guidance in Preventing Harassment

It seems the #MeToo movement has left a tsunami effect in its wake throughout the business world. Sexual misconduct by high-profile, powerful men has not only shown harassment to be pervasive but also resulted in more detailed guidance from the EEOC. In 2017, the EEOC introduced a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The study report provided an in-depth look at the data. What they found was startling and led to a critical update to current practices for the prevention of workplace harassment.

The EEOC Select Task Force Report

The report revealed that of the 90,000 EEOC charges filed in 2015, one-third of the cases included workplace harassment allegations under various protected classes: sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, race, disability, age, ethnicity, national origin, color, and religion. Secondly, three out of every four employees harassed in the workplace never reported the misconduct, and current methods of prevention have proved to be futile.

However, employers and practitioners now have guidance and resources from the EEOC as to their position on sexual harassment. These following five key methodologies provide a cursory, though not a comprehensive, preview of the EEOC’s new, definitive practices for preventing harassment on the job.

  1. Committed Strong Leadership. Without a commitment from leaders and managers, a culture of harassment develops and fosters inaction due to fear of retaliation. With that firm commitment, accountability must be a priority from the top down, from senior officials to junior management. Only with their drive to develop a culture of respect, alongside adopting policies and protocols that support prevention, will it become an effective policy. Senior-level management must state that harassment towards any class is unacceptable and that swift action through an impartial and thorough investigation will be taken against any individual who violates the anti-harassment policy.
  2. Consistent, Proven Accountability. To further compliance with the EEOC’s new guidance towards anti-harassment, small employers and human resource professionals should have well-trained, responsible, neutral individuals handling complaints and investigations. They should have the training required to manage the entire procedure from initial complaint to investigation to resolution. Reports should follow the company’s harassment reporting procedures and include the investigator’s findings, related investigative actions and recommendations, and any disciplinary action taken.
  3. Comprehensive Anti-harassment Policies. An anti-harassment policy is not complete without the awareness of its existence among the entire workforce. The EEOC recommends that training be conducted interactively or live if possible. Training should be done regularly and evaluated by employees to be sure they understand the policy thoroughly. Evaluations completed by employees can determine whether or not they understood the policy, its rules, procedures, expectations, and the consequences of violating the policy. The policy also should include a statement that harassment is prohibited and will not be tolerated. It should also be clear that those who make complaints or participate in investigations will not suffer retaliation even if the findings prove there was no misconduct.
  4. Easily Available and Dependable Complaint Reporting Process. Whether employees are victims of harassment or witnesses to it, they should feel confident and reassured about the complaint reporting process. The process should be fully sourced, with sufficient, appropriately trained staff who can handle complaints thoroughly and promptly.
    Trained staff should feel comfortable about addressing questions and concerns from alleged victims, complainants, witnesses, and alleged harassers, and handle reports professionally. Above all, the privacy of the individuals involved should be protected, and the investigations into any allegations should be consistent, impartial, and meet EEOC requirements.
  5. Training for All Employees Regardless of Their Role. Any training in support of an anti-harassment policy should consider the workforce and its industry. Training for individuals who manage the harassment reporting system and conduct investigations will look far different from the training an employee outside the human resources department would receive. Managers and supervisors should receive compliance training because of their additional responsibilities of reporting misconduct. After anti-harassment training, employees should be able to quickly identify unlawful harassment and know how the complaint reporting system works. The EEOC report does mention that businesses should consider adopting new training efforts, such as bystander intervention or workplace civility training.

Small business owners should periodically review existing policies, harassment complaint procedures, investigative methods, and harassment training and update their practices to align with the EEOC guidance on preventing harassment. For easy-to-use checklists, charts, and a list of recommendations, review the EEOC’s report beginning with page 66.  


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