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Harassment & Discrimination

3 Critical Messages from the EEOC’s Harassment Study


By Sondra Solovay Jul 21, 2016

eeoc harassment study

It’s been 30 days since the EEOC called for organizations to “reboot” harassment prevention efforts. Have you made headway yet?

The media has been buzzing with misleading headlines claiming harassment prevention training doesn’t work, or makes things worse. Perhaps you know you need to make some forward progress, but with the report itself at almost 100 pages, just finding the time to read and digest all the recommendations and detail is a challenge.

Don’t despair – in this blog series, we will address three vital messages that you can turn into actionable strategies for your organization.

1. The Time Is Now!

It’s urgent! That is the most important message from the report issued by the EEOC's Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. Literally, on page 33, the EEOC report says, “Leadership must establish a sense of urgency about preventing harassment.”

Check-the-box solutions that may have been satisfactory to some in the past are not in line with the current stance on harassment prevention, which embraces a holistic approach.

If you’ve been having a hard time getting started, now’s the time to jump in.

First, speak up.

Leadership, including Human Resources and Legal Departments, needs to take a visible role in creating and sharing an organizational vision for a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. You must ensure all employees understand the importance to the organization of diverse and inclusive workplace. Be sure the kinds of harassing behaviors that are unacceptable are called out organization-wide. Similarly, you need to be clear with the whole workforce about what behaviors are acceptable.

Second, understand where you stand.

The EEOC Task Force Report expects us to make organizational change to ensure the workplace is one where all employees can be free from harassment. But we can’t do that if we don’t truly understand where we stand in terms of workplace risk and culture.

The report provides helpful guidance by detailing risk factors common in workplaces where harassment proliferates. Of course, harassment can exist in any workplace, but if your organization shares some of the risk factors identified in the report, then you need to be even more attentive to your organization’s cultural climate.

Another way to understand your organizational culture is to borrow a page from the higher education playbook, with climate surveys adapted for the workforce (more on that later).

Third, if you’ve got it, don’t let it go.

We’re trying to efficiently create a culture of respect, where the workplace is free from inappropriate behaviors including harassment and discrimination. You might be there already, or it might take work to get there, but once you are, the EEOC study reminds us to commit to maintaining that status. This means proactively ensuring your culture does not slip or move off-course.

The report makes it clear that harassment has been happening for too long and has been targeting numerous classes of individuals. Employers must redouble efforts to tackle workplace harassment via expanded understandings about how to approach harassment compliance training, and it needs to happen now.

Key Takeaway

The EEOC has made it clear: harassment prevention in the workplace is an urgent matter. If you haven’t fully committed to a culture of respect, now is the time to increase your efforts. And for organizations that are already there, don’t stop what you’re doing.

Urgency is the first lesson from the EEOC’s study. Read the second blog in this series here to learn more about the recommendations for adopting prevention strategies from higher education, including bystander education and climate surveys. And check out the final blog here to find out how you can stop harassment before it becomes unlawful.

Plus, you can watch our on-demand webinar recording with employment lawyer Lynn Lieber, to get more insights on the study, including the agency's recommendations on harassment prevention training.

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