EEOC Issues Harassment Prevention and Response Guidance

The EEOC has issued guidance on “Promising Practices for Prevention and Addressing Harassment in the Federal Sector.”  While the guidance provides recommended practices for federal government workplaces, it offers sound advice for other public sector and private sector employers.  Here is a sampling of the EEOC’s recommendations that are applicable to other employers too:

  • Annually issue and distribute to all employees, and prominently post, an anti-harassment policy statement signed by a company official stating that harassment will not be tolerated, the type of conduct that is prohibited, how to report harassment, and the consequences of engaging in harassment and retaliation. The EEOC recommends posting the statement electronically in a format that is readily available to all employees (including those with disabilities) throughout the organization.
  • Periodically meet with relevant officials (i.e., those responsible for anti-harassment programs) to discuss the organization’s anti-harassment program.  It is also a good practice to periodically remind supervisory employees of anti-harassment program requirements, such as through training, and to assess factors that create risk of harassment in the workplace. 

  • Make anti-harassment efforts part of the organization’s strategic plan.

  • Obtain feedback from employees to assess workplace harassment, retaliation, and other unwelcome workplace conduct, such as through climate and exit surveys and review of EEO complaint data.
  • Implement and enforce, organization-wide, consistent penalties and responses to workplace harassment.  Organizations should make employees and supervisors aware of company policies and potential penalties through periodic training and communication of applicable policies.

  • Ensure that anti-harassment policies clearly explain who is responsible for responding to workplace harassment complaints, how complaints may be reported, and the process the organization will follow when complaints are received.  Employers should regularly (at least annually) evaluate their anti-harassment policies and assess organization data regarding anti-harassment allegations and responses.

  • Acknowledge and reward employees, supervisors, and managers for creating and maintaining a culture in which harassment is not tolerated, including recognition for taking actions that prevent harassment.  Supervisory and managerial employees should be evaluated on their harassment prevention and response actions.

  • Anti-harassment policies should be regularly shared with employees.  Such policies should be easy to understand, define harassment, and provide examples of prohibited conduct, prohibit harassment based on all protected characteristics under applicable laws (i.e., race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, national origin, religion, disability, age, genetic information, and retaliation, among others).  Policies should provide alternative reporting mechanisms for individuals to report harassment, including options to submit complaints outside of the supervisory hierarchy.
  • State clearly that employees who engage in protected activity, such as reporting harassment or providing information related to such complaints, will be protected against retaliation.  Reassure employees that the organization will take appropriate corrective action in response to harassment.

  • Assure employees that the organization will exercise discretion (and maintain confidentiality to the extent feasible) so that investigations can be thorough and impartiality preserved.
  • Explain that the organization will conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation of harassment allegations.  Provide general timeliness for the initiation and completion of investigations and implementation of responses that follow investigations.  Establish standards and procedures that eliminate conflicts of interest in harassment-related investigations and subsequent corrective actions.

  • Create and enforce policies against bullying, intimidation, and stalking, both as such conduct overlaps with protected characteristics and where protected EEO categories are not involved.  Policies should address and provide examples of harassment that can occur online, in remote work environments, and in other outside-of-work scenarios.  Policies should also encompass harassment that involves non-employees, such as contractors, guests, volunteers, and customers.

  • Require supervisory and managerial employees to report harassment and encourage employees to promptly report harassment when they become aware of such behavior (both victims and witnesses).

  • Permit anonymous reporting of harassment, such as through hotlines and online reporting platforms.
  • Thoroughly document harassment investigations and corrective actions.  Document investigatory findings and responses.  Communicate the outcome of investigations to the alleged victim(s) and harasser(s), including the actions taken, in an appropriate manner under the circumstances and legal requirements.
  • Provide anti-harassment training at all levels of the organization at least annually.  Training should be thorough, including easily understood definitions and processes, examples of prohibited conduct, and expectations for employees, supervisors, and managerial employees.  Effective training includes interactive discussions with participants and the use of real world examples.

This list contains just some of the EEOC’s recommendations.  The EEOC’s press release and, particularly the full recommendations are worth bookmarking by employers and incorporating into company handbooks and policies.

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