After three decades of trying, training aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the workplace has gotten nowhere, according to a task force study commissioned by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Two commissioners of the EEOC, co-chairs of a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, called on stakeholders to double down and “reboot” workplace harassment prevention efforts at a meeting of the EEOC in Washington Monday. Commissioners Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic highlighted for their fellow commissioners the key findings and recommendations of a report they developed after 14 months of study of workplace harassment with the Select Task Force.
Convened in 2015, the Select Task Force was comprised of 16 members from around the country, including representatives of academia from various social science disciplines, legal practitioners on both the plaintiff and defense side, employers and employee advocacy groups, and organized labor.
More than 30 years after the U.S. Supreme Court held in Meritor Savings Back v. Vinson that harassment was a form of unlawful discrimination, workplace harassment remains an all-too persistent problem, Feldblum and Lipnic told their colleagues. Indeed, as the report noted, almost one-third of the roughly 90,000 charges filed with EEOC in FY 2015 included an allegation of harassment.
Too much of the effort and training to prevent workplace harassment over the last 30 years has been ineffective and focused on simply avoiding legal liability, explained Lipnic. “In simplest terms, training must change.”
“That does not mean we are suggesting that training be thrown out; far from it — but training needs to be part of a holistic, committed effort to combat harassment, focused on the specific culture and needs of a particular workplace.” Merely having effective reporting and response systems in place is also not enough, she cautioned, if employees fail to use them for fear of subsequent retaliation. “Above all, employees must have faith in the system,” she noted.
Feldblum set forth the report’s recommendation that employers explore new types of training to prevent harassment, including workplace civility and bystander intervention training. “Bystander intervention training can create a sense of collective responsibility on the part of workers and empower them to be engaged bystanders in preventing harassment,” she explained. “With leadership support, bystander intervention training could be a game changer in the workplace.” Feldblum also set forth the “audacious goal” of exploring an “It’s on Us” campaign in the workplace, similar to the campaign that encourages bystanders to prevent sexual assault on campuses.
The report includes detailed recommendations for harassment prevention, including a chart of risk factors that may permit harassment to occur; effective policies and procedures to reduce and eliminate harassment; recommendations for future research and funding; and targeted outreach. In addition, it offers a toolkit of compliance assistance measures for employers and other stakeholders.