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PRESS RELEASE
10-23-15

Multi-Prong Strategy Essential to Preventing Workplace Harassment

Panel of Experts Identify Practices That Can Curb Harassment at Public Meeting of EEOC Select Task Force

LOS ANGELES - Placing pressure on companies by buyers, empowering bystanders to be part of the solution, multiple access points for reporting harassment, prompt investigations, and swift disciplinary action when warranted, along with strong support from top leadership, are some of the measures employers can take to prevent workplace harassment, panels of experts told the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace (STF) at a public meeting held yesterday in Los Angeles.

This was the second public meeting of the STF, and the first to be held outside of Washington, DC.  The STF was announced by EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang in March, 2015, and it is co-chaired by EEOC Commissioners Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic.  Members of the STF include individuals representing the worlds of academia, law, labor, and business.  This meeting was designed to explore innovative steps to prevent workplace harassment.

"If there is one thing we have learned so far, it is that the more we can do to prevent harassment before it happens, the better off we will all be," said Feldblum.  "Remedying harassment is never as good as stopping it before it happened."

Judge Laura Safer Espinoza, Director of the Fair Food Standards Council, described an innovative, market-driven program that has demonstrated success in stopping sexual harassment and violence.  Participating buyers, including McDonalds and Walmart, buy their tomatoes only from growers who implement a human rights-based Code of Conduct monitored and enforced by the Council. "This market-driven model has - in four short years of implementation - brought an end to impunity for sexual harassment and sexual violence," said Safer Espinoza.  Jon Esformes, CEO of Pacific Tomato Growers and one of the first major growers to join the effort, described the positive effect of the program in his fields.

Dorothy Edwards, Executive Director of Green Dot, etc., described the Green Dot strategy of bystander training.  Melissa Emmal, Deputy Director of Abused Women's Aid in Crisis, who has led implementation of the Green Dot strategy in Anchorage, Alaska, said "we have successfully worked with bar and restaurant owners, human resources professional groups and local government offices among others. By approaching business owners as allies and offering them simple and effective strategies to make their employees and customers safer, we have greatly deepened the bench of community members actively engaged in violence prevention."

Other panelists stressed the importance of leadership from the top.  Patti Perez, a shareholder at the law firm Ogletree Deakins and president of Puente Consulting, described employers with "creative programs that send a loud message to employees about the company's dedication to the prevention of inappropriate behavior at work. Companies who are truly committed to addressing these issues implement programs, not just policies," she said.

Sophia Cheng, Community Organizer at Restaurant Opportunities Center of Los Angeles, agreed with the importance of management buy-in. She explained that in restaurants, "Even when managers don't directly harass employees, it's a management responsibility to foster a safe work environment, including clear anti-harassment policies. Management sets the tone."

Heidi-Jane Olguin, CEO of Progressive Management Resources, underscored the factors that make training productive, including training all employees, not just managers, every 12-18 months; utilizing live trainers; tailoring the training to the workplace; training in multiple languages when necessary; and training employees, managers, and HR professionals separately. 

"Today's meeting made clear that all parties - employers, workers, bystanders, and regulators - have a role to play in combating and eliminating workplace harassment," said Co-Chair Lipnic.  "The testimony we heard today set out a number of promising practices, which we will continue to explore going forward."

Co-chairs Feldblum and Lipnic encouraged meeting attendees to send suggestions on promising practices to prevent workplace harassment via the STF's page on the EEOC website where the public may also submit comments.

The EEOC enforces the federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.