The United States Equal Employment Commission (“EEOC”) is a governmental agency that enforces federal anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC investigates charges of discrimination filed against covered employers through an administrative enforcement process. In 2017, the EEOC outlined four checklists for employers to fight unlawful workplace harassment.
Checklist One: Leadership and Accountability:
Leadership of an organization should establish a culture of respect in which harassment is not tolerated. There must be sufficient resources and time allocated for a harassment prevention effort. Further, leadership must assess harassment risk factors and take steps to minimize those risks.
The harassment prevention policy must be easy to understand, regularly communicated to employees, have a reporting system that employees know about and is fully resourced and the imposition of discipline must be prompt, consistent and proportionate to the severity of harassment. Mid-level managers and supervisors must prevent and respond to harassment. Regular compliance training for all employees is key, including civility and bystander intervention training.
Checklist Two: An Anti-Harassment Policy:
Employers should have an unequivocal statement that harassment based on any protected class will not be tolerated. Prohibited conduct—with examples—should be included. The reporting system should be identified and provide multiple avenues to report harassment. The anti-harassment policy should state it will provide a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation. Moreover, the policy must be clear, in simple terms and in all languages used by its workforce.
The identity of the person who reports harassment and the information gathered during an investigation should remain confidential to the extent possible. Employers should take immediate and proportionate corrective action with unlawful harassment and assure employees/witnesses that they will be protected from retaliation for submitting a report of harassment. Further, that discipline will be enforced against those who retaliate against someone for filing a complaint.
Checklist Three: A Harassment Reporting System and Investigations:
Employers should have a reporting system that allows employees to file reports of harassment they have experienced or observed and a process for undertaking investigations. The process must be fully resourced, employer representatives must take reports seriously and the work environment should be supportive and allow employees to feel safe reporting harassment to managers.
Investigators should be well trained, objective, neutral, document all steps taken, conduct timely and complete investigations and communicate their determination to all parties. Protecting the privacy of those who file complaints and those involved in the investigation is also important.
Checklist Four: Compliance Training:
Employers should provide training to all employees regarding its policies, reporting systems and investigations. It should be supported at the highest levels, repeated and reinforced regularly, designed to engage participants and modified as necessary. Training should describe illegal harassment, include examples, educate employees about their rights and responsibilities, describe the reporting process and explain consequences for engaging in unacceptable conduct in the workplace.
Managers and supervisors should receive additional compliance training regarding methods for dealing with harassment they observe, that is reported to them or which they have knowledge or information of, including descriptions of sanctions for failing to use such methods. They must receive clear instruction on how to report harassment up the chain of command and be encourage to practice situational awareness.