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Harassment & Discrimination

EEOC Study: How to Stop Harassment Before It Becomes Unlawful


By Sondra Solovay Jul 29, 2016

leadership harassment prevention eeoc

So far in our series on the EEOC’s Study of Harassment in the Workplace, we’ve covered two important messages: 1) it’s urgent that you prioritize harassment prevention and 2) you should adopt strategies from higher education, such as bystander education and climate surveys. Now, we are going to talk about how you can tie this all together—with help from your organization’s leadership.

3. Walk the Walk: A Call to Leadership

In no uncertain terms on page 33, the study explicitly directs, “Leadership must back up its statement of urgency about preventing harassment with two of the most important commodities in a workplace: money and time.”

Because the focus has shifted to full-scale cultural change to achieve the compliance goal of a harassment and discrimination free workplace, the study puts a significant emphasis on training. No more business as usual. 

Early, superficial headlines about the EEOC’s study seemed to indicate that training was not working. The true message is that training is your path forward, but the approach needs to be broader - much broader:

“[S]ufficient resources must be allotted to procure training, trainings must be provided frequently, and sufficient time must be allocated from employee schedules so that all employees can attend these trainings.”

The Task Force Report differentiates “compliance training” - which focuses on unlawful behavior -  from “civility training” - which focuses on affirmatively promoting respect and civility, often across all types of diversity.

The study recommends that organizations implement harassment prevention training that goes beyond mere compliance. We were excited to see this, because it reflects our goal to create courseware that helps clients create a culture of respect.

“Employees must believe that their leaders are authentic in demanding a workplace free of harassment. Nothing speaks to that credibility more than what gets paid for in a budget and what gets scheduled on a calendar.”

The issue of harassment is not an isolated incident involving an unfortunate few, but rather a cultural problem with a community-driven solution. You can help your organization end harassment by stopping it before it starts, rooting out the early unacceptable behaviors before they rise to the level of unlawful action...and leadership buy-in is where that process starts.

What’s Next?

Your path to compliance requires more than a check-the-box training solution. It calls for cultural change.

You can create real cultural change. It is possible by importing techniques from higher education and expanding compliance with civility/diversity initiatives, but it requires time and money.

In effect, civility training is the “new” compliance training, because it increases the potential for compliance training to be effective.

In a world where a healthy organizational culture is the key to creating and maintaining a harassment-free environment, you will need to elicit a solid commitment from everyone - executive leadership, managers, supervisors and all employees - to reach that goal.

If you are interested in learning more about the EEOC’s Study on Harassment in the Workplace, download our webinar recording with employment lawyer Lynn Lieber.

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