WASHINGTON — Updated U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance on harassment could be coming soon, Vice Chair Jocelyn Samuels hinted in a response to a moderator question about the 2015 revival of the #MeToo movement.
James Banks, general counsel for the Society for Human Resource Management, noted that EEOC convened a task force in 2016 to study harassment. But the agency hasn’t issued any new guidance, Banks pointed out to the SHRM Employment Law and Compliance Conference crowd.
“Particularly in the wake of #MeToo, the number of sexual harassment charges we’ve received — the percentage of our charges that allege harassment across the board — has dramatically increased,” Samuels said. “And we know things now that we didn’t know… I think there’s a real commitment to providing updated guidance to reflect lessons that we learned over the last decade or more.”
In the Q&A portion of the conference session, an audience member asked about talent underreporting instances of sexual harassment. Samuels acknowledged that this was a phenomenon of great concern to the EEOC. However, she seemed to be heartened by the recent “substantial” uptick in claims.
“Somewhat counterintuitively, it is some good news when we see an increase in charges of discrimination,” Samuels told the SHRM attendee. “Because it can mean that people feel empowered to report it.”
The EEOC commissioner told the audience that increased discourse following #MeToo provides employers with an opportunity “to get out in front of sexual harassment or misconduct before it results in legal liability.”
Samuels also shared that a “shocking” number of charges concern workers in retail, fast food and other mall jobs. “Often they involve really vulnerable people, like teenagers, who are doing these jobs as their first exposure to the workplace.”
“I do hope that in the really short term, we will be able to provide enhanced guidance to you on this topic,” Samuels said.