Combating workplace harassment in #MeToo era
With the #MeToo movement featured so prominently in the news, most recently in the process to confirm a Supreme Court justice, it should come as no surprise that workplace harassment claims are increasing.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced preliminary sexual harassment data for their 2018 fiscal year, which ended on September 30, 2018. In their press release, the EEOC reaffirmed that combatting all forms of workplace harassment – whether based on sex, race, color, disability, age, national origin, or religion – remains a top priority of the agency. In addition, the Commission announced that:
- Hits on the sexual harassment page of the agency’s website more than doubled in the past year.
- The EEOC filed 66 harassment lawsuits, including 41 that included allegations of sexual harassment. That reflects more than a 50 percent increase in EEOC-filed suits challenging sexual harassment over fiscal year 2017.
- In addition, charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by more than 12 percent from fiscal year 2017.
- Overall, the EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for the victims of sexual harassment through litigation and administrative enforcement in FY 2018, up from $47.5 million in FY 2017.
Given these statistics, employers must make every effort to promote a positive work environment that is free from harassment. Establishing such a workplace begins with the consistent and demonstrated commitment of management to create and maintain a culture in which harassment simply will not be tolerated. As the EEOC has stated, executive leadership can show that commitment by, among other things, ensuring that the organization:
- Has in place an anti-harassment policy that is comprehensive, easy to understand, and regularly communicated to all employees;
- Maintains a harassment complaint procedure that is accessible to all employees, has multiple avenues for raising complaints, and is regularly communicated to all employees;
- Regularly and effectively trains supervisors and managers about how to prevent, recognize, and respond to conduct that, if left unchecked, may rise to the level of prohibited harassment; and
- Imposes discipline that is prompt, consistent, and proportionate to the severity of the harassment and/or related conduct, such as retaliation, when it determines that such conduct has occurred.
In addition to promoting a healthy work environment, these steps can prevent legal claims and ultimately provide a defense to any claim that may be asserted. Employers should consult with experienced human resources professionals and/or labor and employment counsel about implementing effective policies and complaint procedures and conducting anti-harassment training on a regular basis.
For MEA members, the Hotline and a Member Legal Services attorney are available to provide this assistance.
About the Author
Amy McAndrew is MEA’s Director of Member Legal Services and has over twenty years of experience as a labor and employment attorney.