July 22, 2016 Category: Sexual Harassment
According to a recent report commissioned by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “workplace harassment remains a persistent problem” throughout the country. In particular, thousands of employees continue to experience sexual harassment, despite the fact that it has been considered an illegal form of employment discrimination for more than three decades. Consequently, the EEOC’s report offered a number of suggestions for employers, employees, and government officials on how to “reboot” efforts to combat sexual harassment.
Task Force Calls on Employers to Adopt “Bystander Intervention” Training
In January 2015, the EEOC appointed a 16-member task force to study and report on sexual harassment. On June 20 of this year, the task force presented its report and recommendations. The report noted that nearly “one third of the approximately 90,000 charges received by the EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment.” This includes all forms of harassment, not just sexual harassment.
The task force also pointed out that the EEOC’s numbers drastically undercount the actual level of sexual harassment in the workplace. This is because “three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct.” Employees often fail to report harassment due to fear of embarrassment or “professional retaliation.”
The task force noted that sexual harassment in the workplace “will not stop on its own.” In addition to ongoing enforcement of existing civil rights laws, the report advises employers to adopt “new and different approaches” to anti-harassment training. Among other things, employers should consider “bystander intervention training,” where co-workers are encouraged to report any sexual harassment that they witness to their supervisors. This training is modeled on anti-sexual assault policies successfully adopted by many college campuses. The task force also said that all employers need to “dedicate sufficient resources to train middle-management and first-line supervisors on how to respond effectively to harassment that they observe” before such harassment rises to the level of a “legally actionable” civil rights violation.
How Widespread is Sexual Harassment in California?
California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing recently announced the formation of its own sexual harassment task force, which will “build upon the work” of the EEOC. In 2015 alone, the Department said it received over 4,800 complaints involving sexual harassment in California workplaces. The majority of these complaints were either settled or resolved through voluntary mediation. Only four lawsuits based on sexual harassment complaints were actually filed last year.
Ultimately, formal complaints to government agencies only capture a fraction of the actual sexual harassment that occurs. Employers need to assume a greater responsibility for identifying and preventing sexual harassment on their premises. As the EEOC task force put it, stopping sexual harassment “must start with and involve the highest level of management of the company.” Employees must also not be afraid to stand up against any illegal harassment. And when there is a complaint about sexual harassment and the employer fails to take appropriate action, the employee should not hesitate to contact a qualified California workplace discrimination lawyer. Contact the Briski Law Firm if you need to speak with an experienced sexual harassment attorney right away.