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Preventing workplace harassment: EEOC updates guidance


Photo: smartboy10/gettyimages

Washington — New guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is intended to prevent and address worker harassment based on sex, race and other protected traits, outlining when such behavior is against the law.

The update to the workplace harassment guidance is the commission’s first since 1999. EEOC issued proposed guidance on harassment in the workplace in 2017, but the proposal wasn’t finalized.

The guidance, effective immediately, offers multiple updated scenarios in which harassing conduct may contribute to a hostile work environment and violate equal employment opportunity law. Among them:

  • Sex-based harassment related to sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Social media conduct outside the workplace
  • Conduct on an employer’s email system

EEOC reminds employers that they’re responsible for preventing workplace harassment and ending such behavior as soon as they’ve learned about it, “even if the harassment has not yet been severe enough or frequent enough to create a hostile work environment.”

To better prevent workplace harassment, the commission encourages employers to:

  • Develop a clear, easily understandable anti-harassment policy for workers.
  • Have safe and effective reporting procedures, including multiple options for reporting.
  • Educate all workers, including supervisors and managers, on the organization’s anti-harassment policy and complaint process.
  • Ensure the anti-harassment policy is followed consistently and the complaint process is effective.

EEOC solicited public comment on proposed guidance in October.

“Harassment, both in-person and online, remains a serious issue in America’s workplaces,” EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows said in a press release. “The EEOC’s updated guidance on harassment is a comprehensive resource that brings together best practices for preventing and remedying harassment and clarifies recent developments in the law.”

EEOC recommends that anyone who believes they’re being harassed on the job “take appropriate steps at an early stage to prevent the harassment from continuing or getting worse.

“You should tell the harasser that you find the behavior unwelcome,” the commission continues. “If you don’t feel comfortable confronting the harasser or the harassment does not stop, you should tell your employer.”

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