Best Practices for Preventing Workplace Harassment

Sexual-harassment-02A new report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) highlights best practices for employers to prevent and respond to workplace harassment.
 
Harassment Defined
Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The EEOC defines harassment as unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.

Harassment becomes unlawful where enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Best Practices
According to the EEOC report, employers should:

  • Foster an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated;
  • Adopt and maintain a comprehensive anti-harassment policy (which prohibits harassment based on any protected characteristic, and which includes social media considerations) and establish procedures consistent with the best practices outlined in the report;
  • Ensure that any such anti-harassment policy–especially details about how to complain of harassment and how to report observed harassment–is frequently communicated to employees, in a variety of forms and methods;
  • Ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is prompt and proportionate to the severity of the infraction. Discipline should be consistent, and not give (or create the appearance of) undue favor to any particular employee; and
  • Dedicate sufficient resources to training middle-management and first-line supervisors on how to respond effectively to harassment that they observe, that is reported to them, or of which they have knowledge or information–even before such harassment reaches a legally-actionable level.

Note: Employers may have specific obligations regarding harassment under state or local laws (e.g., training or notice requirements and/or additional protected classes).

More information regarding employer responsibilities under federal nondiscrimination laws may be found in our section on Discrimination.

LGBT Workers and Employment Discrimination: What Employers Should Know

FMLA-Benefits-Same-Sex-SpousesNew guidance released by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) highlights what employers should know about the agency’s enforcement efforts on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals under federal employment discrimination laws.

Background

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. This federal law applies generally to employers with 15 or more employees.

The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

EEOC Guidance

The EEOC takes the position that discrimination against an individual because that person is transgender is a violation of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination in employment. Therefore, the EEOC’s district, field, area, and local offices are expected to accept and investigate charges from individuals who believe they have been discriminated against because of transgender status (or because of gender identity or a gender transition).

In addition, the EEOC takes the position that lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals may bring valid Title VII sex discrimination claims, as Title VII also protects such individuals against sex discrimination. The EEOC is expected to accept and investigate charges alleging sexual-orientation discrimination, such as claims of sexual harassment or allegations that an adverse action was taken because of a person’s failure to conform to sex-stereotypes.

The text of the guidance is available by clicking here. A brochure regarding the prevention of employment discrimination against LGBT workers is also available.

Our section on Discrimination has more information regarding employer obligations under federal nondiscrimination laws.