EEOC Is Leading The Way For Game Changing Harassment Prevention
“The EEOC is finally looking past the legal definition of harassment and instead looking at conduct and behaviors that might not be actionable, but could lead to action. Further, they sought to understand the impact of current training programs on harassment.” – Catherine Mattice, President, National Workplace Bullying Coalition
Soon after Jenny R. Yang was appointed by President Obama to be the Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), she initiated in January 2015 a Select Task Force to explore methods for preventing and addressing harassment in the workplace.
One of our board members, Jerry Carbo, a professor of management and marketing at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, and an expert on labor relations, organizational behavior and workplace bullying, is on the Task Force. “It was a great honor working with the experts on the task force and the Commissioners. It was great to see so many people from all sides of the issue so committed to ending workplace harassment. The Commissioners have done an outstanding job developing a plan that will lead to major breakthroughs in addressing and eliminating workplace harassment and protecting workers right to dignity,” says Carbo.
The 16 member Task Force composed of representatives from both the plaintiff and defense bars, employers and employee advocacy groups and organized labor held hearings and received many public comments on the issue of workplace harassment and how to prevent it. In their report, released in June of 2016, they declared that harassment remains a persistent problem; a third of the 90,000 charges received by the EEOC in 2015 included an allegation of harassment. Harassment often goes unreported, according to the report, and instead people avoid the harasser, downplay the behaviors or attempt to endure or ignore the behavior. In fact, three out four individuals who experience harassment never reported it to their employer, because they feared inaction and retaliation, or that no one will believe them.
(While the report doesn’t address workplace bullying specifically, we know that too often people who are bullied have the same reaction. They don’t report it to their employers for all of the same reasons.)
The Task Force’s report also points to something we already knew – current training programs are not working because they are focused on avoiding legal liability, and because they happen in a vacuum.
Catherine Mattice, our President, and a corporate trainer and human resources consultant, states that, “It is widely, widely, widely known in the field of corporate training that training is only effective when there are pre- and post-training assignments, when the environment is conducive to behavior change, when leadership is immensely transparent about their support of the training, when managers are taught how to continue the learning long after the training program is over, when the training is in-person and interactive, and so much more. I am so excited that the EEOC is finally willing to take a look at how training can be more effective - it feels like, until now, they’ve been ignoring what so many training professionals already know.”
In fact, the EEOC Task Force is even talking about how corporate culture and bystander intervention might be the keys to effective harassment prevention. As the report points out, bystander intervention is widely used to combat sexual harassment on school campuses. The workplace bullying research also points to bystander intervention as the key to solving bullying.
In other words, instead of harassment training that addresses the law, harassment training should be about assertive communication skills, workplace civility and respect, and other solutions. The Task Force is even talking about creating an “It’s on Us” campaign for the workplace, where, according to the report, they can “transform the problem of workplace harassment from being about targets, harassers, and legal compliance, into one in which co-workers, supervisors, clients, and customers all have roles to play in stopping such harassment.”
According to the Task Force report, the EEOC recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging harassment in 2015 alone. This doesn’t include the costs of litigation, nor does it include the costs of turnover, poor work quality, stress, reduced customer service and other problems harassment (and workplace bullying) bring.
“I believe that when we look back a generation from now, this report will mark a turning point towards preventing, detecting, remedying and eliminating all forms of workplace harassment in the United States. I hope that by the time we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Supreme Court recognizing harassment as an unlawful form of discrimination we will have cured the epidemic of bullying and harassment in the workplace, but we all still have a lot of work ahead of us,” says Carbo.
The EEOC’s Chair, Jenny Yang, is the daughter of our Vice-President, Hon. Sue Pai-Yang, a retired workers’ compensation judge in New Jersey.
Click here to read the Executive Summary on the EEOC website: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/report_summary.cfm