EEOC Workplace Harassment Task Force Recommends a 'Reboot' of Harassment Prevention

Author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal Editor

July 1, 2016

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace has released its report after a 14-month study of workplace harassment. The report includes a toolkit of compliance assistance measures for employers, and encourages employers to offer compliance trainings "on a dynamic and repeated basis to all employees."

Currently, only a handful of states require harassment training, and those requirements tend to cover only supervisor training and are mostly limited to harassment based on sex.

The Task Force, formed in 2015, was comprised of 16 members from around the country, including representatives from academia and attorneys. The Task Force convened a meeting, focusing on "Rebooting Workplace Harassment Prevention," to discuss the results of its work.

The Co-Chairs of the Task Force, Commissioners Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic, stressed the importance of workplace harassment prevention. Lipnic recommended that a focus in training shift from remedying workplace harassment to preventing it from occurring in the first place. "In simplest terms, training must change," Lipnic stated in a press release. "That does not mean we are suggesting that training be thrown out, far from it - but training needs to be part of a holistic, committed effort to combat harassment, focused on the specific culture and needs of a particular workplace."

Feldblum echoed Lipnic's statements, emphasizing the importance of training all employees on workplace civility and instilling a responsibility in all to do their part in preventing, recognizing and addressing workplace harassment. Feldblum suggested exploring the possibility that an "It's On Us" campaign, which encourages bystanders to prevent campus sexual assault, be tailored to the workplace. The effort would focus on changing workplace culture and discouraging complacency when faced with possible harassment.

While workplace civility training is described as a best practice in the report, the Task Force cautioned that the EEOC and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) should confer, consult, and attempt to jointly clarify and harmonize the interplay of the National Labor Relations Act and federal EEO statutes with regard to the permissible content of workplace "civility codes." The NLRB has been active in regulating workplace policies and codes that, while emphasizing civility and professionalism, may be interpreted as interfering with workplace labor rights.

The Task Force also encouraged the EEOC to work with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and others to conduct a national poll on the prevalence of workplace harassment based on sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity), race, ethnicity/national origin, religion, age, disability, and genetic information over time.

The meeting is currently available for comment and the EEOC invites members of the public to submit written comments on any issues or matters discussed at the meeting. Public comments may be emailed to: