EEOC Releases Proposed Enforcement Guidance Addressing Harassment

Author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal Editor

UPDATE: The EEOC has extended the time in which to comment on its proposed enforcement guidance until March 21, 2017.

January 12, 2017

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released for public input a proposed enforcement guidance addressing unlawful harassment under federal employment discrimination laws. The report builds on recommendations from the agency's Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, which were issued in a report last summer. Employers and other stakeholders may submit comments until February 9, 2017.

The laws enforced by the EEOC protect the following characteristics: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age or genetic information. The guidance reviews and explains the legal standards that apply to harassment claims based on these legally protected categories. The guidance would supersede various guidance documents currently in use, which were all issued in the 1990s.

The proposed guidance also includes promising practices for employers to follow with respect to the following:

  • Leadership and accountability. The EEOC encourages employers to cultivate a culture of respect in organizations, and to ensure that workplace harassment is not tolerated in any way.
  • Policy. The EEOC encourages employers to adopt comprehensive, clear and effective harassment prevention policies to communicate to employees what constitutes unlawful harassment.
  • Complaint system. Employers are urged to implement an effective and accessible complaint system.
  • Training. Although only a handful of states require sexual harassment prevention training for supervisors, employers are encouraged to provide effective training to as many employees as possible. The guidance also mentions offering workplace civility training and/or bystander intervention training.

In fiscal year 2015, the EEOC received 27,893 charges of discrimination that included a harassment allegation, or 30% of the total charges filed that year. EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang said in a press release, "Harassment remains a serious workplace problem that is the concern of all Americans. It is important for employers to understand the action they can take today to prevent and address harassment in their workplaces."

Comments may be submitted through, or by sending written feedback to: Public Input, EEOC, Executive Officer, 131 M Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20507.