The EEOC Issues Guidance on Workplace Harassment

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued new Enforcement Guidance on Harassment and this Summary of Key Provisions. While it does not have the force and effect of law, it provides insight on how the EEOC may enforce federal antidiscrimination laws. It addresses transgender employee rights, among other things. 

Harassment can manifest in various forms, including ethnic slurs, derogatory jokes, offensive displays, threats, and physical assaults. It is illegal even if the harasser is mistaken about the victim’s protected characteristic or if the harassment is based on the victim’s association with someone who has a different protected characteristic. Intersectional harassment, involving more than one protected characteristic, is also prohibited. For example, a Black woman might face harassment that combines racial and sex discrimination.

Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment, and the behavior does not need to be sexual in nature to be unlawful. Harassment that contributes to a hostile work environment can be severe or pervasive, and even a single severe incident may be sufficient to establish a violation. The EEOC considers the totality of the circumstances, including the frequency, severity, and impact of the harassment, as well as the power dynamics between the victim and the harasser.

Employers are obligated to prevent and address harassment in the workplace. They should have clear anti-harassment policies, multiple reporting options, regular training, and mechanisms to ensure compliance. Employers must respond promptly to harassment complaints by conducting thorough and impartial investigations and taking appropriate corrective actions. Retaliation against employees who report harassment is prohibited.

Employees can report harassment through their employer’s policies or directly to the EEOC. The EEOC provides various resources for employers and employees, including guidance on preventing harassment, effective complaint procedures, and training programs. Employers must take reasonable steps to prevent harassment and address it effectively when it occurs to maintain a safe and fair work environment.

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