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June 12, 2017

HR leaders: Follow EEOC Anti-Harassment Guidance

HR leaders: Follow EEOC Anti-Harassment Guidance featured image

What’s the state of harassment in the workplace today – and what types of training practices are best at improving conditions for employees?

Workplaces should be free of harassment, and the EEOC has released guidelines on improving conditions.

Getting in line with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission standards and preventing workplace harassment are important duties for any human resources manager today. There are many components to creating a compliant and welcoming environment free of harassment, and to make this a reality, HR departments have to impart knowledge to leadership and employees, and get buy-in from both groups.

The state of the workplace

The EEOC formed a select task force to investigate harassment in the workplace in 2015, producing a report that revealed many workplaces are still prone to serious problems with employee harassment. The task force went beyond the legally defined rules of workplace harassment and searched for situations that may lead to worse issues in the future. The main findings of the survey underline the need for HR departments to keep investing in training and prevention:

  • The EEOC received around 90,000 complaints in 2015, nearly a third of which dealt with harassment. This can take many forms: HR departments should be ready to counter harassment based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, orientation, gender identity, pregnancy and more. The EEOC noted that it plans to expand its research in the years ahead to ensure the breadth of the problem is properly understood.
  • Approximately three-fourths of those who feel harassed never report the incident. People are worried that they may be retaliated against or not believed by authority figures. Creating an environment in which problems can be reported safely may be one of the most pivotal steps in preventing them.
  • There are numerous reasons to institute zero-tolerance policies toward harassment, including financial motives. The EEOC noted that workplaces beset by negative employee behavior often suffer from low morale and decreased productivity. Add that to the legal costs of dealing with allegations of mistreatment and it’s clear that companies’ moral compasses and wallets agree: harassment must be stamped out.
  • From leadership down, everyone must fight workplace harassment. When leaders commit and are held accountable, programs stand a better chance of taking root and having a real impact. Managers and other authority figures aren’t the only ones who should be included in such prevention programs, though; everyone has a role to play.
  • Training is the key and it must be up to the task. The EEOC pointed out that training should be suited to the workplace in question. Furthermore, sessions should be about more than getting in compliance with anti-discrimination laws. Rules and regulations are a minimum, and anti-harassment cultures can and should go beyond requirements.
Workplaces characterized by harassment tend to lag in morale and productivity.Workplaces characterized by harassment tend to lag in morale and productivity.

Starting points

There is no set of guidelines or check boxes that can completely prepare an organization to fight harassment – after all, every company is different and compliance is merely a starting point. However, as Workforce columnist John Hyman pointed out, the EEOC did give HR leaders a series of questions to ask themselves when self-assessing. These are useful, as they show ways for companies to grow effectively and thoughtfully into open and constructive environments.
The guidelines point to four key pillars for HR departments to assemble. First, they need commitment from and accountability by leaders. Next, there should be a solid policy. Third, there should be mechanisms in place for the safe reporting of harassment and investigations into allegations. Finally, there should be training. Every type of employee at all levels should be subject; no one’s role is so important or so marginal that the individual is exempt.

Covering all bases

When it comes to becoming a better-trained organization and one ready to prevent harassment of all kinds, it’s important for HR managers to think about situations that they may be missing. There’s always room for improvement, so sitting back and accepting the status quo as “good enough” may lead to issues down the line.
Law firm Miller & Martin PLLC offered a few hints based on the EEOC’s latest guidance and explained that HR leaders should prepare employees to deal with situations beyond the most common scenarios. For instance, training should include practices for preventing and responding to harassment that happens anywhere, comes from any party – even someone who isn’t an employee – and is based on any trait.
The source also noted that when businesses opt for video-based instruction, they should insist on recent and capably created materials. Some organizations opt for out-of-date materials, which may have been created 20 or more years ago. These courses naturally won’t match today’s needs, mores or best practices

Harassment prevention starts by covering relevant bases.Harassment prevention starts by covering relevant bases.

Finding the right course

Once HR departments have set their priorities and gotten ready to educate their team members, they need to actually find the right materials for their employees. MasteryTCN offers a variety of courses on creating civil and productive workplaces free of harassment. These cover roles from entry-level workers to executive leadership, and include up-to-date content and learning assessments to ensure their messages have been absorbed.
Industry-specific and more granular courses, covering everything from bullying to speaking up for an LGBT inclusive workplace to the legalities of interviewing, can ensure that workplaces are prepared for any eventuality. Such training materials are the planks that build healthier, happier spaces for workers.

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