Harassment Still a Big Problem at U.S. Employers, New EEOC Report Finds

In a new report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the authors note that they were “deeply troubled” by the persistence of workplace harassment.   

According to the workplace harassment statistics cited in the report, nearly a third of the approximately 90,000 charges the EEOC receives each year include an allegation of workplace harassment.

The EEOC report, which stems from 14 months of study by an EEOC taskforce, echoes what we’ve said for years: Harassment isn’t just a problem for certain industries, nor is it merely an HR issue. Harassment is an organizational culture issue.

It’s worth noting that the EEOC’s harassment in the workplace statistics probably don’t tell the whole story. EEOC Commissioner Victoria A. Lipnic, citing academic literature, said 90 percent of people who are harassed at work never file a legal complaint. It’s also been suggested that statistics on sexual harassment in the workplace, which are included under the EEOC’s general harassment category, have declined in recent years as companies deal with the matters internally, avoiding reporting to the EEOC.

The report is certainly worth a close read. We wanted to pull out three of the findings of particular note:

  1. Preventing Workplace Harassment Is All About Culture & Persistence

    Among its recommendations, the report’s authors said employers should shift attention to creating workplace environments in which harassment is neither acceptable nor the norm.

    This ties into something we talk about a lot—that ethics and compliance programs are only effective if they build a strong organizational culture that repels misconduct.

    Related Resource: Building a Culture-Changing E&C Program: Six Essentials

    The best way to prevent harassment and discrimination is to design a thoughtful and regularly updated workplace harassment prevention program, and to make it a top priority to create a safe and respectful work environment in your organization. The EEOC’s report is a much needed reminder that, in the fight to eliminate workplace harassment, complacency is never acceptable.

    The recent rape conviction involving a student from Stanford should stand as a stark reminder that those who are joining your workplace out of school are coming from environments where sexual harassment and sexual abuse are more common than we would like to believe; and for many who have reported the misconduct they have been met with inaction or retaliation. Changing behaviors and building trust with these new employees is an ongoing effort.

    It’s also important to remember that the battle against harassment requires persistence and repetition. One-time training is not enough. If you want training to be effective it must be relevant and relatable and it must reflect what’s going on in the workplace today. 

  2. The Importance of “Bystander Intervention” Training

    The EEOC report also suggested that organizations take a page from the Obama administration’s “It’s On Us” initiative, which aims to prevent sexual harassment and assault on college campuses.

    As in that initiative, the EEOC recommends that companies put employees through “bystander intervention training” to teach workers how to recognize and report problematic behavior that they may see among their colleagues. This kind of training has been an important component of NAVEX Global’s workplace harassment training course; the culture belongs to all employees and they have an obligation to step forward and speak up when they see misconduct.

    "Bystander intervention training can create a sense of collective responsibility on the part of workers and empower them to be engaged bystanders in preventing harassment," Feldblum said. "With leadership support, bystander intervention training could be a game changer in the workplace."

  3. Treating the Concept of "Workplace Civility as a Learned Skill

    Organizations should focus on developing training that has more to do with promoting a respectful work environment than with simply eradicating sexual harassment. As Chai R. Feldblum, co-chair of the EEOC’s task force who co-authored the report said at a panel discussion prior to the report’s release:

    “What we learned from academics and investigators is that if one does what’s called ‘workplace civility training’—a very skills-based training on how to be respectful—that can help [employers] avoid harassment on the basis of protected characteristics.”

    Courses like our “Diversity and inclusion” can help, as can working with managers to make sure they have the tools and skills they need to successfully handle controversial workplace conversations.​

Six Questions to Ask About Your Current Workplace Harassment Training Course

Harassment is fundamentally a human issue, and combatting it goes beyond implementing the right policies. It is about how we interact and communicate with each other as human beings, and it requires a careful balance of power dynamics, personal boundaries and an understanding of how each employee experiences their work environment. It also requires that we fundamentally show respect for each other and respect how we are different from each other.

In light of troubling workplace harassment statistics and the EEOC’s findings, companies should ask themselves some tough questions about their training and compliance programs. Go through the following statements and respond with a “yes” or “no” to each of them.

  1. I have deployed a new workplace harassment training course in the last two years
  2. I am training all my employees—managers and employees
  3. There is content in the course that is just for managers, and it will help them become better leaders
  4. The scenarios in my course are current and realistic and will resonate with my employees
  5. The course I deploy is so great, even I want to watch it
  6. I am confident that my senior leaders will think the course is a good use of employee time
  7. I am certain that my employees will find this training engaging, informative and thought provoking

If you said “no” to even one of these statements, it’s time to consider whether your training could be working harder for you in your efforts to create a culture that combats workplace harassment.

Our award-winning online Workplace Harassment training and related micro learning bursts emphasize the importance—and obligation—to report suspected misconduct. Learn more about the course and see a demo here.

Chat with a solutions expert to learn how you can take your compliance program to the next level of maturity.

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