- On July 9, 2019
Since the advent of #MeToo, there has been a surge in internal harassment complaints and a spike in claims filed with the EEOC. According to a private sector report released in April 2019, the number of internal harassment complaints surged by more than 25% from 2017 to 2018 and made up 8.5% more of all complaints in 2018 than in 2017. In fiscal year 2018, EEOC litigators filed 66 lawsuits alleging workplace harassment—more than a 50% increase over the previous year, and the EEOC found “cause” to believe illegal harassment had actually occurred in 25% more of the charges filed.
It’s clear from the statistics that more employees are reporting harassment, and the EEOC is taking them very seriously. The EEOC identifies five core principles that have generally proven effective in preventing and addressing harassment: (1) committed and engaged leadership; (2) consistent and demonstrated accountability; (3) strong and comprehensive harassment policies; (4) trusted and accessible complaint procedures; and (5) regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization.
Employers should have a harassment policy and a complaint system that are comprehensive, easy to understand, regularly communicated to all employees and translated into all languages commonly used by employees. The harassment policy should be provided to employees upon hire and during harassment trainings, and posted centrally, such as on the company’s internal website, in the company handbook, and in commonly used areas.
Employees should be regularly trained (every 2–3 years) about the harassment policy and the complaint system. Employee participation in training should be document.
An effective harassment complaint system should have multiple avenues for making a complaint (if possible) and should provide prompt, thorough and neutral investigations. The complaint system should welcome questions, concerns, and complaints; encourage employees to report potentially problematic conduct early; and treat alleged victims, complainants, witnesses, alleged harassers, and others with respect.
Employers must appropriately document every complaint, from initial intake to investigation to resolution, use guidelines to weigh the credibility of all relevant parties, and prepare a written report documenting the investigation, findings, recommendations, any disciplinary action (where applicable), and corrective and preventative action taken.
Employers that respond to all complaints with open doors and open eyes and ears—and a prompt response to harassment complaints—are far less likely to hear from the EEOC on these issues.