Flurry of EEOC harassment suits names United Airlines, Piggly Wiggly
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced another series of lawsuits alleging workplace harassment. The latest charges are aimed at seven employers and represent the second such effort in as many months.
- Five of the suits involve sexual harassment allegations, two are racial harassment claims and one also alleges harassment based on national origin. Five of the seven lawsuits include claims that the employees were retaliated against for reporting the harassment.
- One of the suits, filed against United Airlines, alleges that a captain frequently posted sexually explicit images of a flight attendant to various websites, and that United failed to correct the pilot's behavior, despite complaints. Another, filed against Piggly Wiggle, alleges that two employees were subjected to a sexually hostile work environment and suffered retaliation when they opposed the harassment.
As the EEOC cracks down on harassment, the spotlight shines brightly on HR and the role it should play in these cases. The best HR departments will foster an environment where these issues rarely arise and, when they do, tackle the problem proactively before it turns into crisis.
EEOC noted that this series of suits is just the latest in its attempt to crack down on harassment. The agency has said that the number of sexual harassment claims hasn't increased following the #MeToo movement, but that it might be too early to see the full effects of it. Even so, employers would be wise not to wait around for a movement or a lawsuit to address workplace harassment.
Managers should know and understand what's required of them. And employers should make sure that employees are aware of policies, and know that they'll be enforced. Employers who ignore or accept harassment as normal workplace behavior not only risk a lawsuit, but also risk losing their best performers. A new Gartner survey found that employees who witness misconduct are twice as likely to leave their jobs.
This means that HR needs to treat every allegation of harassment seriously and carefully consider which requires a formal investigation, experts have told HR Dive. Thank employees for coming forward with a complaint to avoid even an inference of retaliation, and then work swiftly to investigate the situation, documenting every step along the way.
If egregious conduct is happening regularly, as described in EEOC's allegations, a total culture overhaul might be necessary. A culture that values respect, civility, high ethical standards, tolerance and inclusion won't happen overnight, but it can be done.