The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) identified eradicating harassment as a key priority in its 2013-2016 Strategic Enforcement Plan.? As with other ?key initiatives? the EEOC has evidenced its commitment to this initiative through increased actions where the agency perceives an employer to have a hostile work environment.? Recognizing the increased emphasize on eradicating ?harassment? from the workforce, employers are wise to consider systemic review of their policies to ensure that their own documentation and related practices will help to protect against harassment claims and serve as a prophylactic should they be subject to an audit.
The attorneys at The AR Group have long counseled that employees need a harassment policy in place that specifically targets and addresses sexual harassment.? Recent developments, however, suggest that even that may not be enough.? That is, for the policy to be viable, employers must now address other kinds of unlawful harassment, including racial or ethnic harassment and that which targets people with disabilities.? What is more, employers must take care to craft the policy in plain English; restatements of the regulation(s) are insufficient.? In addition an employer?s complaint procedure must provide employees with not just an option to bypass their supervisor; but ideally provide employees with multiple points of access for filing of a complaint.? In a similar vein, we are learning that the no retaliation section should be carefully crafted to define who is protected by the policy ?(e.g., complainants, witnesses, and other participants in the investigatory process) while the definition of prohibited activity should ensure compliance with recent developments as well.
These recent developments have also increased awareness around the need for supervisor training.? After all, harassment prevention programs are only as effective as the strength of training in place to support them.? This point cannot be understated and we routinely remind employers that they have greater exposure to punitive damages where no or inadequate training is offered since the failure to train is arguably equal to a form of reckless disregard.
As with most areas related to management of human capital, this is an area that continues to evolve.? Employers are wise to routinely update their Employee Handbooks and relevant policies impacting management of human capital.
SMART TIP:? While employers need to emphasize that people have different perspectives, they should not suggest that women are from Venus and men are from Mars.? Though differences need to be considered, remember that we have more in common than not.? Ultimately, an employer does not want employees to avoid harassment claims be avoiding those who are different from them ? that may in and of itself be discrimination.