EEOC’s Select Task Force on Harassment: Transforming #MeToo into a Mandate for a Harassment-Free Workplace
The #MeToo movement continues to provide traction for the crack-down on workplace harassment. On June 11, 2018, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reconvened its Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. If you think this is just for show, all indications are that you are wrong.
The task force, originally formed in 2015, consists mainly of legal practitioners, employer and employee advocacy groups, professors, social scientists and organized labor. In June 2016, the Task Force released a report which included recommendations regarding enlightening leadership, accountability, best policies and procedures, training, and developing a sense of collective responsibility.
As a result of the report, the EEOC developed a training program called Respectful Workplaces which, according to the EEOC website, has been provided in over 200 training sessions to over 5,200 employees and supervisors in 18 states. Since the 2016 report was released, the EEOC estimates it has conducted about 2,700 outreach events related to harassment, reaching approximately 300,000 individuals.
At the public meeting on June 11, the EEOC heard expert witnesses on “Transforming #MeToo into Harassment-Free Workplaces.” The experts discussed topics such as non-disclosure and arbitration agreements, training mandates, proposals for legal reform, and suggestions for preventative strategies. At the meeting, acting EEOC Chair Victoria A. Lipnic said the 2016 report “laid the groundwork for the launch of a renewed effort to prevent harassment” and pledged the Agency would use the public’s demand under the #MeToo movement to “continue to lead the fight against workplace harassment and to promote solutions to prevent it.”
For those of you thinking this is just a lot of talk – think again. In the days following the June 11 meeting, the EEOC initiated seven harassment suits against employers from all different industries. One of the complaints alleged an Ohio-based commercial cleaning and construction cleanup company subjected its office manager to unwanted touching and sexually charged comments. Another alleged a staffing agency in New Mexico allowed a group of female employees placed with the Albuquerque Police Department to be repeatedly groped, called names, and otherwise demeaned. A third alleged a California-based franchise violated anti-discrimination law when an owner of two of the franchise’s locations harassed two female employees and forced them to quit. In a final example, a manufacturer of screen doors is alleged to have allowed a female employee to be groped and threatened. Other companies facing allegations of harassment are an Alabama-based ship manufacturer, a California-based printing company, and a national trucking company.
The main takeaway here is that the EEOC is serious about using the #MeToo movement to further its mission and it is targeting everyone in its hunt for unlawful workplace practices. Employers too should take the #MeToo movement seriously and continue to make thoughtful decisions to protect their business from these sorts of suits. The EEOC means business – you should too.
Brody and Associates regularly provides training and counseling on maintaining a harassment free environment and on employment law issues in general. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.454.0560.