- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) highlighted seven recent enforcement actions June 14, illustrating its commitment to cracking down on workplace harassment. It might be too early to know the full effect of the #MeToo movement — the agency says it hasn't seen an increase in sexual harassment claims — but "as the nation has seen over the past nine months, harassment at work can affect individuals for years in their careers and livelihoods," acting chair Victoria A. Lipnic said in a statement, discussing the agency's commitment to enforcing the law.
- The charges span the country and include allegations of harassment based on sex and race. Some centered on the use of racial slurs; others alleged inappropriate touching and intimidating sexual comments. The claims also included allegations of retaliation.
- According to Lipnic, about one-quarter of the agency's litigation filed in recent years has included a workplace harassment allegation. And nearly one-third of the 80,000 to 90,000 discrimination charges the agency receives annually include a harassment claim. The EEOC has many roles to play on the harassment issue, Lipnic said recently: as the agency with expertise, as an educator, and as enforcer. "With the suits filed this week," Lipnic said, "we are enforcing the law."
HR can adopt zero-tolerance policies on harassment, but experts say efforts can't stop there. Leadership must demonstrate its commitment to the effort, leading the way in creating culture of respect and inclusion. HR also must be permitted to enforce these policies, and to do so consistently.
This can mean training managers to escalate complaints, and then taking each one seriously. It also includes ensuring that workers feel free to report issues, without fear of retaliation.
While EEOC may not be seeing the effects of #MeToo in its charge numbers, management-side attorneys say that HR departments have seen an increase in complaints, as well as demand letters. Those with solid cultures and policies in place ahead of time will be in a good position to resolve problems quickly and appropriately.