Best Practices for Preventing Workplace Harassment

A new report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) highlights best practices for employers to prevent and respond to workplace harassment.

Harassment Defined 
Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The EEOC defines harassment as unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.

Harassment becomes unlawful where enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Best Practices
According to the EEOC report, employers should:

  • Foster an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated;
  • Adopt and maintain a comprehensive anti-harassment policy (which prohibits harassment based on any protected characteristic, and which includes social media considerations) and establish procedures consistent with the best practices outlined in the report;
  • Ensure that any such anti-harassment policy–especially details about how to complain of harassment and how to report observed harassment–is frequently communicated to employees, in a variety of forms and methods;
  • Ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is prompt and proportionate to the severity of the infraction. Discipline should be consistent, and not give (or create the appearance of) undue favor to any particular employee; and
  • Dedicate sufficient resources to training middle-management and first-line supervisorson how to respond effectively to harassment that they observe, that is reported to them, or of which they have knowledge or information–even before such harassment reaches a legally-actionable level.

Note: Employers may have specific obligations regarding harassment under state or local laws (e.g., training or notice requirements and/or additional protected classes).