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#MeToo Impacts Sexual Harassment Charges Filed With EEOC

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3 takeaways from the EEOC’s FY 2018 workplace discrimination data  

EEOC Training Materials - 2018 Cases by Category

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released its enforcement data for FY 2018, and the big news is that sexual harassment charges rose by 13.6%, while workplace discrimination charges overall decreased compared to FY 2017. In the press release announcing the results, EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic said, “We cannot look back on last year without noting the significant impact of the #MeToo movement in the number of sexual harassment and retaliation charges filed with the agency.”

What can we learn from the EEOC’s FY 2018 enforcement statistics? Here are three takeaways:

  1.  Sexual harassment training is core to preventing workplace harassment
    Almost three years ago, the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace named training as one of the core principles for effectively preventing and addressing harassment. Since #MeToo, sexual harassment training has become a major part of the conversation on preventing workplace harassment and changing behaviors that can lead to harassment incidents and claims. The importance of training is also being underscored in a growing number of state and city anti-harassment laws (led by California, New York and New York City), which require employers to provide sexual harassment training to employees.

    The EEOC says that regular, interactive harassment training may be most effective when it is tailored to the organization and workforce, provided to all employees at every level and location, and championed by senior leaders. As part of a holistic approach to preventing harassment and improving workplace culture, sexual harassment training is a valuable tool to raise awareness of what is and isn’t appropriate behavior, and the effects of misconduct on individuals and the organization.

    Further, training helps move the conversation from awareness to action by providing insights and practical steps on how to respond to and report misconduct, and intervene as a bystander to stop abusive behavior before it becomes unlawful harassment.

  1. Employees need to know more about retaliation
    Workplace retaliation is once again the most frequently filed charge, appearing in 51.6% of all charges filed with the EEOC in FY 2018. The obvious takeaway is the need for more awareness and education on what workplace retaliation is, how it relates to sexual harassment, and what supervisors and managers can do to recognize, address and prevent all forms of retaliation.

    Like sexual harassment, retaliation violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. It occurs when an employer takes “adverse action” against an employee or job applicant, who files a good-faith complaint of discrimination, harassment or other misconduct or participates in an investigation. Retaliation can take different forms, from firing, demoting, reassigning, disciplining and harassing to spreading false rumors or mistreating a family member of someone who filed a complaint.

    The EEOC recommends several ‘promising practices’ to help organizations manage the risk of retaliation claims and violations, including developing a clearly written anti-retaliation policy, implementing a formal complaint process and conducting training for all employees.  Retaliation training can help ensure employees understand the organization’s anti-retaliation policies and procedures, raise awareness of the different forms of retaliation and reinforce the importance of avoiding all forms of retaliation and responding promptly and effectively to complaints.

  2. Workplace culture impacts harassment prevention
    A rise in sexual harassment charges also underscores the role of workplace culture in preventing harassment and promoting a respectful, inclusive work environment. The EEOC’s harassment task force said that “workplace culture has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, in preventing harassment.”

    Transforming workplace culture is a long-term process that starts with a commitment by senior management and holding people accountable for their behavior. Changing workplace culture also requires the right policies, complaint procedures and training to address and prevent discrimination and harassment and promote diversity and inclusion.

Traliant Insight
Sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC rose almost 14% in FY 2018, sending a clear message that organizations should regularly review and update their efforts to eliminate sexual harassment and retaliation, and create a workplace culture of respect, civility and diversity and inclusion. Preventing workplace harassment and retaliation requires  a holistic approach, starting with the support of senior leadership, and reinforced by policies, reporting procedures and interactive, behavior-based training tailored to the organization’s workforce.

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