The #MeToo movement has cast a national spotlight on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Be assured that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is well aware of the movement and has focused and committed to combating sexual harassment in the workplace. This month the EEOC filed seven lawsuits against employers in multiple states alleging sexual harassment. In a press release EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic cautioned:
“As the nation has seen over the past nine months, harassment at work can affect individuals for years in their careers and livelihoods. . . . There are many consequences that flow from harassment not being addressed in our nation’s workplaces. These suits filed by the EEOC around the country are a reminder that a federal enforcement action by the EEOC is potentially one of those consequences.”
In furtherance of its efforts, the EEOC also recently reconvened its Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace to hear from expert witnesses on “Transforming #MeToo Into Harassment-Free Workplaces” at a meeting open to the public.
The Select Task Force released a report on June 20, 2016, outlining recommendations and guidelines that remain as essential to employers as ever, especially in light of the EEOC’s continued enforcement efforts. The Task Force Report included recommendations regarding leadership, accountability, policies and procedures, training, and developing a sense of collective responsibility. It also reiterated the fact that implementing and enforcing a thorough policy is essential to creating and maintaining a healthy workplace free of harassment. Contained in the Task Force report is a recommended checklist to address the key components of a sound harassment policy.
Below are the elements identified in the checklist that should be in a harassment policy:
- An unequivocal statement that harassment based on any protected characteristic will not be tolerated;
- An easy-to-understand description of prohibited conduct, including examples;
- A description of a reporting system – available to employees who experience harassment as well as those who observe harassment – that provides multiple avenues to report, in a manner easily accessible to employees;
- A statement that the reporting system will provide a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation;
- A statement that the identity of an individual who submits a report, a witness who provides information regarding a report, and the target of the complaint, will be kept confidential to the extent possible consistent with a thorough and impartial investigation;
- A statement that any information gathered as part of an investigation will be kept confidential to the extent possible consistent with a thorough and impartial investigation;
- An assurance that the employer will take immediate and proportionate corrective action if it determines that harassment has occurred;
- An assurance that an individual who submits a report (either of harassment experienced or observed) or a witness who provides information regarding a report will be protected from retaliation from co-workers and supervisors;
- A statement that any employee who retaliates against any individual who submits a report or provides information regarding a report will be disciplined appropriately;
- Is written in clear, simple words, in all languages commonly used by members of the workforce
According to the Task Force Report, employees in workplaces without policies report the highest levels of harassment. Given the importance of having a sound harassment policy, and in light of the EEOC’s focus on harassment, and the consequences of non-compliance, employers should keep their harassment policy in check and ensure that it contains the key elements.
As always, let us know if we can help.