EEOC offers employees a lesson in civility
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has launched its much anticipated respectful workplace training. The two programs, aimed at reducing harassment and discrimination, go beyond compliance and legal definitions and focus on respect and acceptable workplace conduct.
- Two on-site programs led by EEOC officials are available: One for supervisors and one for all employees. Employers can contact their local EEOC Outreach Program Coordinator for additional information or to schedule training in their workplace.
- The program implements a recommendation from the commission's Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.
While the task force could find no empirical evidence that training alone prevented harassment or discrimination in the workplace, members said they believe it is part of an overall strategy by employers to reduce the behaviors.
Following the task force's recommendation, stakeholders raised concerns that such training could run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which some say outlaws rules like "no negativity" policies. For example, in a 2014 case, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that employee handbook language that discouraged making negative comments or engaging in gossip, as well as encouraging employees to “take every opportunity to speak well of each other,” was overly broad and may have infringed on employees' rights to engage in concerted activity.
Jenny Yang, an EEOC commissioner, previously told HR Dive that EEOC has been in conversations with NLRB about that issue and that she believes the concerns and competing interests can be reconciled. "This type of training is not the same thing as a civility code but really promoting the management practices that encourage respectful behavior and among colleagues," she said.
Training, especially for front-line managers, has long been considered an important aspect of preventing discrimination and harassment. For now, it seems that employers are free to implement such training as long as it doesn't chill workers' NLRA rights.