EEOC recommends new approach for preventing workplace harassment

An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report has found that training programs used by American companies to prevent workplace harassment are ineffective and need to be changed. Harassment in the workplace remains a persistent problem, whether it is racist comments by coworkers or inappropriate gestures from a supervisor. The report urged a focus on prevention and increased awareness of harassment risk factors.

According to the 16-member task force behind the report, the agency has consistently received a high number of complaints in recent years. Around 90,000 employment discrimination claims were filed with the EEOC in 2015. Almost one third of those comprised some form of workplace harassment allegations. The majority of harassment was on the basis of race, sex, disability and religion.

The task force also found that workplace harassment was widely underreported. According to the report, employees were prone to “fear disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.” As a result, they were less likely to complain to their employers about the harassment or file formal complaints with the EEOC.

EEOC Commissioner Victoria Lipnic recommended that businesses implement systems that allow people to report harassment with the knowledge that “they won’t be retaliated against.” She also emphasized the need for employers to “model good behavior at the highest levels.” The report has identified 12 harassment risk factors that companies should be aware of, as well as recommendations for prevention.

The EEOC advises that in order for anti-harassment training to be effective, it should include the participation of leadership and top management. Employers should educate and train front-line supervisors on how to address workplace harassment. Current training methods are outdated and poorly designed. They focus on simply avoiding legal liability, the report said.

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