Just how do you define workplace harassment? The EEOC has taken its best shot.
The agency just released proposed enforcement guidance addressing unlawful harassment under the federal employment discrimination laws. The document explains the legal standards applicable to harassment claims under federal employment discrimination laws. The laws enforced by EEOC protect individuals from harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information.
Harassment’s a growing problem in today’s business world. Between fiscal years 2012 and 2015, the percentage of private sector charges that included an allegation of harassment increased from slightly more than one-quarter of all charges annually to over 30% of all charges. In fiscal year 2015, EEOC received 27,893 private sector charges that included an allegation of harassment, accounting for more than 31% of charges filed that year. In the same year, federal employees filed 6,741 complaints alleging harassment – approximately 44% of complaints filed by federal employees that year.
Preventing systemic harassment has been one of EEOC’s national enforcement priorities since 2013, a priority it reaffirmed in its Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2017-2021.
In January 2015, the Commission established a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace to analyze workplace harassment and identify innovative and creative prevention strategies. It’s chaired by agency commissioners Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic and comprised of academic experts, legal practitioners from the plaintiff and defense sides, employers, employee advocacy groups, and organized labor.
The recent proposed guidance is the product of 10 public hearings designed to gather testimony and public comments on the exact nature of workplace harassment.
The agency is seeking public input on the proposal. The public can submit comments via www.regulations.gov, or send feedback to Public Input, EEOC, Executive Officer, 131 M Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20507. Input will be posted publicly on www.regulations.gov, so the agency cautions commenters to omit information they don’t wish to make public.
Deadline for submissions is Feb. 9, 2017.