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What You Should Know: EEOC Leads the Way in Preventing Workplace Harassment

In the past twelve months, the country heard story after story of sexual harassment that just one year before might never have been told.  The EEOC's mandate to enforce the nation's employment discrimination laws affords us a unique perspective and responsibility to address the pervasive problem of sexual harassment to which the rest of the nation is now awakening. For decades, the EEOC has educated workers and employers to prevent harassment and has also investigated, mediated, litigated and adjudicated many thousands of claims of workplace harassment based on sex, race, color, disability, age, national origin, and religion.  

Combatting all forms of workplace harassment remains a top priority of the EEOC. From the launch of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace in 2015, to the release of the Co-Chairs' Report in 2016, and through this past fiscal year, the EEOC ramped up its role as enforcer, educator, and leader. The agency also focused on promoting best practices to stop harassing conduct before it becomes legally actionable, to create an effective anti-harassment system that encourages people to come forward, and to hold leaders and supervisors accountable.  The EEOC continues to lead the way in preventing workplace harassment on multiple fronts.  As described below, the EEOC:

Enforcing Laws to Combat Harassment; Educating Employees and Employers, Leading by Example

Vigorously Enforced the Law to Combat Workplace Harassment

  • The EEOC filed 66 lawsuits challenging workplace harassment, 41 of which alleged sexual harassment. This is more than a 50 percent increase in suits challenging sexual harassment over FY 2017.  EEOC's lawsuits sought to protect a wide-range of employees across the entire country, including servers, nurses, administrative assistants, customer service staff, truck drivers, welders, and other workers at cleaners and country clubs, sports bars and airlines, in factories, health care and grocery stores. In both June and August, the EEOC coordinated the filing of federal court cases around the country as a reminder that harassment violates the law.
  • Charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by 13.6 percent from fiscal year 2017.
  • For charges alleging harassment, reasonable cause findings increased by 23.6 percent to nearly 1,200 in FY 2018.
  • EEOC successfully conciliated 498 charges alleging harassment, a 43 percent increase from FY 2017.
  • The EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for the victims of sexual harassment through administrative enforcement and litigation in FY 2018, up from $47.5 million in FY 2017.
  • In appeals of sexual harassment cases involving federal employees, awards increased by more than 180 percent in FY 2018 to $443,066.

Met the Heightened Demand for Information and Advice

  • Hits on the sexual harassment page of the EEOC's website more than doubled this past year, as many individuals and employers sought information to deal with workplace harassment.
  • The EEOC developed "What to do if you believe you have been harassed at work" to explain the steps to take if individuals felt they were being harassed at work.
  • The EEOC issued "Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment" to provide strategies to employers to reduce workplace harassment.
  • EEOC staff conducted over 1,000 outreach events on harassment for more than 115,000 individuals and employers. Acting Chair Lipnic and Commissioners Feldblum and Burrows led our harassment outreach efforts with over 80 speeches and events, demonstrating the commitment of the EEOC's leaders to share our expertise and suggestions for promising solutions.
  • The EEOC reconvened the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace for a public meeting, "Transforming #MeToo into Harassment-Free Workplaces," to examine difficult legal issues and to share innovative strategies to prevent harassment, including app-based reporting, simple color-coded reporting, and panic buttons for hotel workers.

Promoted Respectful Workplaces

  • In October 2017, the EEOC launched "Respectful Workplaces," a new type of training that teaches skills that promote and contribute to respect in the workplace, including how to step in when problematic behavior happens to others. EEOC staff trained over 9,800 employees and supervisors in Respectful Workplaces and over 13,000 in compliance trainings in the private, public and federal sector work forces.
  • Numerous organizations have called on the EEOC to share its expertise or relied on the Co-Chairs Report as they revise their policies, procedures, and training programs to improve how they handle workplace harassment, including the U.S. House of Representatives Administration Committee and Women's Caucus, the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Women's Caucus of the Maryland General Assembly, Illinois Senate Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention Task Force, Illinois House Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Task Force, Rhode Island Legislature, the Freedom Forum Institute of the Newseum, and Safety, Respect and Equity.
  • For the first time in nearly a decade, more than 200 EEOC staff and leadership from across the country convened to develop new strategies for a more coordinated approach to the EEOC's oversight and adjudicative responsibilities in the federal sector, including innovative approaches to combat harassment and make the federal government a model workplace.

Led by Example

  • The EEOC revised its internal policies and procedures on the prohibition of harassing conduct in our own workplace in November 2017, based on the findings of the Harassment Task Force.
  • Acting Chair Lipnic created a Harassment Prevention Action Team in April 2018 to provide internal coordination on harassment prevention efforts across the agency's offices and programs.
  • Senior EEOC leadership participated in the Respectful Workplaces training program in May 2018.

Moving Forward

The EEOC has accomplished much this past year as a leader, an enforcer of the law, an educator, and an expert on harassment prevention. But much more remains to be done and we will continue to look for ways to improve the work that we do. For example, the EEOC will implement a new training program for all EEOC investigators that uses a cognitive interviewing approach for harassment victims, will begin an outreach campaign encouraging reporting, and will provide our Respectful Workplaces training to all EEOC staff.

The EEOC will continue to go all out to do its part, but as the Co-Chairs recognized in the 2016 Co-Chairs' Report, we are only one player in this movement. To achieve the goal of reducing harassment and making workplaces respectful, safe, and productive, everyone in society must have a stake in this effort and do their part.