- An O'Reilly Automotive Orlando, Florida, store subjected a group of female employees to sexual harassment and retaliated against them, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- The suit alleges that a supervisor and other male employees created a hostile work environment by making sexually charged comments and requests, along with grabbing and other unwelcome physical contact. One female employee was allegedly laughed at by managers when she complained about the abuse, the EEOC said. Complaints were made directly to the supervisor, store managers and the corporate headquarters, according to the suit, but women who complained about the harassment were retaliated against and subjected to abusive conduct. One woman was driven to resign because of it, the EEOC said.
- "Employees should not have to choose between enduring abusive sexual conduct or quitting their job," EEOC District Director Michael Farrell said in a statement about the suit.
In fiscal year 2018, 76,418 workplace discrimination charges were brought to the EEOC — down from 84,254 in FY 2017. However, there was a 13.6% increase in the number of sexual harassment charges.
EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic credited the impact of the #MeToo movement when commenting on the number of retaliation and sexual harassment charges filed; she said 2018 was "an incredibly important and productive year for the agency." #MeToo also appears to be driving an increased number of internal sexual harassment complaints.
What should employers be doing? Focusing on prevention rather than remediation, said Elizabeth Bille, senior director of harassment prevention at EVERFI, while speaking at a recent Society for Human Resource Management conference. Bille compared the situation to workplace injuries, saying that an overemphasis on harassment response is akin to providing workers with first aid and guidance for what to do when an injury occurs rather than teaching them how to avoid injuries all together.
To further aid employers, the EEOC released a list of five "promising practices" for preventing harassment. According to the EEOC, the following can be effective in preventing and addressing harassment:
- Committed, engaged leadership
- Consistent and demonstrated accountability
- Strong, comprehensive harassment policies
- Trusted, accessible complaint procedures
- Regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization
The EEOC has said supervisors, managers and team leaders may benefit from additional training due to their added responsibilities. An increasing number of states are mandating sexual harassment training for supervisors and others, as well.