The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’ (EEOC) commissioned a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace which concluded that the past 30 years of corporate training has had no effect on preventing workplace harassment. As a result, two EEOC Commissioners are calling for the EEOC and all employers to “reboot” workplace prevention efforts to include proposing that employers launch an “Its on Us” campaign in their workplaces to end harassment by, in part, implementing bystander intervention. Commissioner Victoria Lipnic noted that the problem with current harassment training is its focus on legal liability, recommending that the training instead needs to “be part of a holistic, committed effort to combat harassment, focused on the specific culture and needs of a particular workforce.” Commissioner Lipnic also stated that, “above all, employees must have faith in the system.” The Commissioners’ Report contains a number of recommendations, many of which employers already employ, but some that are new and make good sense, such as shifting the focus to workplace civility and deploying bystander intervention. The Report contains a chart of risk factors that could create harassment in the workplace as well as highlights of effective policies and training.
The finding is an interesting one in light of federal courts’ findings that components required for an effective anti-harassment include annual training. However, the Commissioners’ comments on the training format make good sense. Routine legal training likely would not be as effective as training meant to unify employees and address real issues occurring in the workplace. Of course, with any such training done in a group setting, employers should remember not to run afoul of any federal or state privacy laws, or conduct the fact-specific training in a way that could be seen as retaliation against any whistleblower raising complaints. Likely, true diversity training may be a necessity to address the issue, in addition to the annual legal aspects of harassment and discrimination.