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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace

Report of Co-Chairs Chai R. Feldblum & Victoria A. Lipnic

Executive Summary & Recommendations

June 2016


Full text of report available at:
https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/upload/report.pdf

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

As co-chairs of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace ("Select Task Force"), we have spent the last 18 months examining the myriad and complex issues associated with harassment in the workplace. Thirty years after the U.S. Supreme Court held in the landmark case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson that workplace harassment was an actionable form of discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we conclude that we have come a far way since that day, but sadly and too often still have far to go.

Created in January 2015, the Select Task Force was comprised of 16 members from around the country, including representatives of academia from various social science disciplines; legal practitioners on both the plaintiff and defense side; employers and employee advocacy groups; and organized labor. The Select Task Force reflected a broad diversity of experience, expertise, and opinion. From April 2015 through June 2016, the Select Task Force held a series of meetings - some were open to the public, some were closed working sessions, and others were a combination of both. In the course of a year, the Select Task Force received testimony from more than 30 witnesses, and received numerous public comments.

Throughout this past year, we sought to deploy the expertise of our Select Task Force members and our witnesses to move beyond the legal arena and gain insights from the worlds of social science, and practitioners on the ground, on how to prevent harassment in the workplace. We focused on learning everything we could about workplace harassment - from sociologists, industrial-organizational psychologists, investigators, trainers, lawyers, employers, advocates, and anyone else who had something useful to convey to us.

Because our focus was on prevention, we did not confine ourselves to the legal definition of workplace harassment, but rather included examination of conduct and behaviors which might not be "legally actionable," but left unchecked, may set the stage for unlawful harassment.

This report is written by the two of us, in our capacity as Co-Chairs of the Select Task Force. It does not reflect the consensus view of the Select Task Force members, but is informed by the experience and observations of the Select Task Force members' wide range of viewpoints, as well as the testimony and information received and reviewed by the Select Task Force. Our report includes analysis and recommendations for a range of stakeholders: EEOC, the employer community, the civil rights community, other government agencies, academic researchers, and other interested parties. We summarize our key findings below.

Workplace Harassment Remains a Persistent Problem. Almost fully one third of the approximately 90,000 charges received by EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment. This includes, among other things, charges of unlawful harassment on the basis of sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy), race, disability, age, ethnicity/national origin, color, and religion. While there is robust data and academic literature on sex-based harassment, there is very limited data regarding harassment on other protected bases. More research is needed.

Workplace Harassment Too Often Goes Unreported. Common workplace-based responses by those who experience sex-based harassment are to avoid the harasser, deny or downplay the gravity of the situation, or attempt to ignore, forget, or endure the behavior. The least common response to harassment is to take some formal action - either to report the harassment internally or file a formal legal complaint. Roughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct. Employees who experience harassment fail to report the harassing behavior or to file a complaint because they fear disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.

There Is a Compelling Business Case for Stopping and Preventing Harassment. When employers consider the costs of workplace harassment, they often focus on legal costs, and with good reason. Last year, EEOC alone recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging harassment - and these direct costs are just the tip of the iceberg. Workplace harassment first and foremost comes at a steep cost to those who suffer it, as they experience mental, physical, and economic harm. Beyond that, workplace harassment affects all workers, and its true cost includes decreased productivity, increased turnover, and reputational harm. All of this is a drag on performance - and the bottom-line.

It Starts at the Top - Leadership and Accountability Are Critical. Workplace culture has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, in preventing harassment. The importance of leadership cannot be overstated - effective harassment prevention efforts, and workplace culture in which harassment is not tolerated, must start with and involve the highest level of management of the company. But a commitment (even from the top) to a diverse, inclusive, and respectful workplace is not enough. Rather, at all levels, across all positions, an organization must have systems in place that hold employees accountable for this expectation. Accountability systems must ensure that those who engage in harassment are held responsible in a meaningful, appropriate, and proportional manner, and that those whose job it is to prevent or respond to harassment should be rewarded for doing that job well (or penalized for failing to do so). Finally, leadership means ensuring that anti-harassment efforts are given the necessary time and resources to be effective.

Training Must Change. Much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool - it's been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability. We believe effective training can reduce workplace harassment, and recognize that ineffective training can be unhelpful or even counterproductive. However, even effective training cannot occur in a vacuum - it must be part of a holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top. Similarly, one size does not fit all: Training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace, and to different cohorts of employees. Finally, when trained correctly, middle-managers and first-line supervisors in particular can be an employer's most valuable resource in preventing and stopping harassment.

New and Different Approaches to Training Should Be Explored. We heard of several new models of training that may show promise for harassment training. "Bystander intervention training" - increasingly used to combat sexual violence on school campuses - empowers co-workers and gives them the tools to intervene when they witness harassing behavior, and may show promise for harassment prevention. Workplace "civility training" that does not focus on eliminating unwelcome or offensive behavior based on characteristics protected under employment non-discrimination laws, but rather on promoting respect and civility in the workplace generally, likewise may offer solutions.

It's On Us. Harassment in the workplace will not stop on its own - it's on all of us to be part of the fight to stop workplace harassment. We cannot be complacent bystanders and expect our workplace cultures to change themselves. For this reason, we suggest exploring the launch of an It's on Us campaign for the workplace. Originally developed to reduce sexual violence in educational settings, the It's on Us campaign is premised on the idea that students, faculty, and campus staff should be empowered to be part of the solution to sexual assault, and should be provided the tools and resources to prevent sexual assault as engaged bystanders. Launching a similar It's on Us campaign in workplaces across the nation - large and small, urban and rural - is an audacious goal. But doing so could transform the problem of workplace harassment from being about targets, harassers, and legal compliance, into one in which co-workers, supervisors, clients, and customers all have roles to play in stopping such harassment.

Our final report also includes detailed recommendations and a number of helpful tools to aid in designing effective anti-harassment policies; developing training curricula; implementing complaint, reporting, and investigation procedures; creating an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated; ensuring employees are held accountable; and assessing and responding to workplace "risk factors" for harassment.

Recommendations

Recommendations Regarding the Prevalence of Harassment in the Workplace

  • EEOC should work with the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Census Bureau, and/or private partners, to develop and conduct a national poll to measure the prevalence of workplace harassment based on sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity), race, ethnicity/national origin, religion, age, disability, and genetic information over time.
  • Academic researchers should compile baseline research on the prevalence of workplace harassment based on race, ethnicity/national origin, color, religion, age, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
  • EEOC should confer with the Merit Systems Protection Board to determine whether it can repeat its study of harassment of federal employees, and expand its survey to ask questions regarding harassment based on race, ethnicity/national origin, color, religion, age, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the federal government, and to disaggregate sexually-based harassment and gender-based harassment.
  • EEOC should work within the structure established by the Office of Personnel Management to offer specific questions on workplace harassment in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

Recommendations Regarding Workplace Leadership and Accountability

  • Employers should foster an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated, and in which respect and civility are promoted. Employers should communicate and model a consistent commitment to that goal.
  • Employers should assess their workplaces for the risk factors associated with harassment and explore ideas for minimizing those risks.
  • Employers should conduct climate surveys to assess the extent to which harassment is a problem in their organization.
  • Employers should devote sufficient resources to harassment prevention efforts, both to ensure that such efforts are effective, and to reinforce the credibility of leadership's commitment to creating a workplace free of harassment.
  • Employers should ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is prompt and proportionate to the severity of the infraction. In addition, employers should ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is consistent, and does not give (or create the appearance of) undue favor to any particular employee.
  • Employers should hold mid-level managers and front-line supervisors accountable for preventing and/or responding to workplace harassment, including through the use of metrics and performance reviews.
  • If employers have a diversity and inclusion strategy and budget, harassment prevention should be an integral part of that strategy.

Recommendations Regarding Harassment Prevention Policies and Procedures

  • Employers should adopt and maintain a comprehensive anti-harassment policy (which prohibits harassment based on any protected characteristic, and which includes social media considerations) and should establish procedures consistent with the principles discussed in this report.
  • Employers should ensure that the anti-harassment policy, and in particular details about how to complain of harassment and how to report observed harassment, are communicated frequently to employees, in a variety of forms and methods.
  • Employers should offer reporting procedures that are multi-faceted, offering a range of methods, multiple points-of-contact, and geographic and organizational diversity where possible, for an employee to report harassment.
  • Employers should be alert for any possibility of retaliation against an employee who reports harassment and should take steps to ensure that such retaliation does not occur.
  • Employers should periodically "test" their reporting system to determine how well the system is working.
  • Employers should devote sufficient resources so that workplace investigations are prompt, objective, and thorough. Investigations should be kept as confidential as possible, recognizing that complete confidentiality or anonymity will not always be attainable.
  • EEOC and the National Labor Relations Board should confer, consult, and attempt to jointly clarify and harmonize the interplay of the National Labor Relations Act and federal EEO statutes with regard to the permissible confidentiality of workplace investigations, and the permissible scope of policies regulating workplace social media usage.
  • Employers should ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is prompt and proportionate to the behavior(s) at issue and the severity of the infraction. Employers should ensure that discipline is consistent, and does not give (or create the appearance of) undue favor to any particular employee.
  • In unionized workplaces, the labor union should ensure that its own policy and reporting system meet the principles outlined in this section.
  • EEOC should, as a best practice in cases alleging harassment, seek as a term of its settlement agreements, conciliation agreements, and consent decrees, that any policy and any complaint or investigative procedures implemented to resolve an EEOC charge or lawsuit satisfy the elements of the policy, reporting system, investigative procedures, and corrective actions outlined above.
  • EEOC should, as a best practice in cases alleging harassment, seek as part of its settlement agreements, conciliation agreements, and consent decrees, an agreement that researchers will be allowed to work with the employer in assessing the impact and efficacy of the policies, reporting systems, investigative procedures, and corrective actions put into place by that employer. While we encourage EEOC to seek such an agreement when appropriate, we do not suggest that the agency must do so in all instances, or that failure to obtain such an agreement should derail otherwise acceptable settlement proposals.
  • Groups of employers should consider coming together to offer researchers access to their workplaces to research the effectiveness of their policies, reporting systems, investigative procedures, and corrective actions put into place by those employers, in a manner that would allow research data to be aggregated in a manner that would not identify individual employers.

Recommendations Regarding Anti-Harassment Compliance Training

  • Employers should offer, on a regular basis and in a universal manner, compliance trainings that include the content and follow the structural principles described in this report, and which are offered on a dynamic and repeated basis to all employees.
  • Employers should dedicate sufficient resources to train 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.
  • EEOC should, as a best practice in cases alleging harassment, seek as a term of its settlement agreements, conciliation agreements, and consent decrees, that employers adopt and maintain compliance training that comports with the content and follows the structural principles described in this report.
  • EEOC should, as a best practice in cases alleging harassment, seek as a condition of its settlement agreements, conciliation agreements, and consent decrees, an agreement that researchers will be allowed to work with the employer to assess the climate and level of harassment in respondent workplaces pre- and post-implementation of compliance trainings, and to study the impact and efficacy of specific training components. Where possible, this research should focus not only on the efficacy of training in large organizations, but also smaller employers and newer or "start up" firms. While we encourage EEOC to seek such an agreement when appropriate, we do not suggest that the agency must do so in all instances, or that failure to obtain such an agreement should derail otherwise acceptable settlement proposals.
  • Groups of employers should consider coming together to offer researchers access to their workplaces to research the effectiveness of trainings, particularly in the context of holistic harassment prevention efforts, in a manner that would allow research data to be aggregated and not identify individual employers.
  • EEOC should compile a resource guide for employers that contains checklists and training modules for compliance trainings.
  • EEOC should review and update, consistent with the recommendations contained in this report, its anti-harassment compliance training modules used for Technical Assistance Seminars, Customer Specific Trainings, trainings for Federal agencies, and other outreach and education programs.

Recommendations Regarding Workplace Civility and Bystander Intervention Training

  • Employers should consider including workplace civility training and bystander intervention training as part of a holistic harassment prevention program.
  • EEOC and the National Labor Relations Board should confer, consult, and attempt to jointly clarify and harmonize the interplay of the National Labor Relations Act and federal EEO statutes with regard to the permissible content of workplace "civility codes."
  • Researchers should assess the impact of workplace civility training on reducing the level of harassment in the workplace.
  • EEOC should convene a panel of experts on sexual assault bystander intervention training to develop and evaluate a bystander intervention training module for reducing harassment in the workplace.
  • EEOC should, as a best practice in cases alleging harassment, seek as part of its settlement agreements, conciliation agreements, and consent decrees, an agreement that researchers will be allowed to work with the employer in assessing the efficacy of workplace civility training and/or bystander intervention training on reducing the level of harassment in the workplace. While we encourage EEOC to seek such an agreement when appropriate, we do not suggest that the agency must do so in all instances, or that failure to obtain such an agreement should derail otherwise acceptable settlement proposals.
  • Groups of employers should consider coming together to offer researchers access to their workplaces to research the effectiveness of workplace civility and bystander intervention trainings in a manner that would allow research data to be aggregated and not identify individual employers.

Recommendations Regarding General Outreach

  • EEOC should develop additional resources for its website, including user-friendly guides on workplace harassment for employers and employees, that can be used with mobile devices.
  • Non-profit organizations should conduct targeted outreach to employers to explain the business case for strong harassment prevention cultures, policies, and procedures.
  • Non-profit organizations (including employee advocacy organizations, business membership associations, and labor unions) should develop easy-to-understand written resources and other creative materials (such as videos, posters, etc.) that will help workers and employers understand their rights and responsibilities.
  • EEOC should partner with internet search engines to ensure that a range of EEOC resources appear high on the list of results returned by search engines.

Recommendations Regarding Targeted Outreach to Youth

  • EEOC should continue to update its Youth@Work initiative (including its website) to include more information about harassment.
  • Colleges and high schools should incorporate a component on workplace harassment in their school-based anti-bullying and anti-sexual assault efforts.
  • EEOC should partner with web-based educational websites, such as Khan Academy, or YouTube channels that have a large youth following, to develop content around workplace harassment.
  • EEOC should establish a contest in which youth are invited to design their own videos or apps to educate their peers about workplace harassment.

Recommendation Regarding an It's on Us campaign:

  • EEOC assists in launching an "It's on Us" campaign to end harassment in the workplace.

Members of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace

Chai R. Feldblum, Commissioner, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Victoria A. Lipnic, Commissioner, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Co-Chairs

Sahar F. Aziz, Associate Professor of Law, Texas A&M University

Meg A. Bond, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Women and Work, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Jerry Carbo, Associate Professor of Management and Marketing, Shippensburg University

Manuel Cuevas-Trisán, Vice President, Litigation, Data Protection & Employment Law, Motorola Solutions, Inc.

Frank Dobbin, Professor of Sociology, Harvard University

Stephen C. Dwyer, General Counsel, American Staffing Association

Brenda Feis, Partner, Feis Goldy LLC

Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President for Education and Employment, National Women's Law Center

Ariane Hegewisch, Program Director, Employment & Earnings, Institute for Women's Policy Research

Christopher Ho, Senior Staff Attorney and Director, Immigration and National Origin Program, Legal Aid Society - Employment Law Center

Thomas A. Saenz, President & General Counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Jonathan A. Segal, Partner, Duane Morris and Managing Principal, Duane Morris Institute

Joseph M. Sellers, Partner, Cohen Milstein LLC

Angelia Wade Stubbs, Associate General Counsel, AFL-CIO

Rae T. Vann, General Counsel, Equal Employment Advisory Council

Patricia A. Wise, Partner, Niehaus, Wise & Kalas; Co-Chair, Society for Human Resource Management Labor Relations Special Expertise Panel