EEOC sexual harassment charges up as overall total declines
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 76,418 workplace discrimination charges in its 2018 fiscal year, down from the 2017 count of 84,254 charges, according to statistics released Wednesday. Retaliation charges represented more than half of all those filed.
- At the same time, EEOC resolved 90,558 discrimination charges, also down from 2017, and secured $505 million for victims in private sector, state and local government, and federal workplaces, reducing its charge backlog by 19.5%, it said.
- The agency saw a 13.6% increase in sexual harassment charges compared to the previous year, however. EEOC acting chair Victoria A. Lipnic noted the impact of societal developments on that figure, stating that "we cannot look back on last year without noting the significant impact of the #MeToo movement in the number of sexual harassment and retaliation charges filed with the agency."
The overall decline may be due in part to the effects of a high demand for labor set against a low employment rate, John Maley, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg, told HR Dive in an email. The agency's figures also did not capture any significant declines nationally across difference categories like race and sex, Maley said.
"For employers, the takeaway is that a steady volume of charges across all topic areas continues, and best practices remain important to avoid or successfully defend charges," Maley said.
Notably, the agency highlighted an increase in sexual harassment charges — something employers are seeing internally as well. EEOC preliminary data released last year showed a more than 50% increase in sexual harassment lawsuits filed by the agency in its 2017 fiscal year, and the same report said the number of visits to the agency's sexual harassment webpage had more than doubled.
But despite increased attention on the issue from media outlets and society at large, few employers report changing their sexual harassment investigation and reporting protocols in recent surveys. A December 2018 poll by Fairygodboss, for example, showed that 57% of surveyed women on its platform thought the workplace was largely the same for women in the aftermath of #MeToo.
Notably, employment law experts have differed on whether policies like non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) have a positive or negative impact on preventing harassment. While some argue NDAs protect victims' confidentiality and speed up the resolution of investigations, employee advocates say the practice can effectively silence victims and protect repeat offenders.
There's also seemingly a reluctance for harassment witnesses to speak up; in a recent Randstad survey, half of workers said they did not take action after witnessing a colleague make an inappropriate comment to a person of the opposite sex. Employers may be able to combat such hesitation by improving preventative training measures and clarifying communication around workplace policies.
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