The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) assembled a task force and charged it with putting together best practices for how employers can stymie workplace harassment. Its work is now done, and it just issued a report on its findings.
The 16-member task force was comprised of academics, attorneys (from both the employer and employee side), members of employer and employee advocacy groups, and union representatives.
For 18 months, the task force held a series of meetings in which it listened to testimonies from 30 witnesses — from employees, employers, sociologists, industrial-organizational psychologists, investigators, trainers, lawyers and more.
Ways to attack the problem
The result? A 95-page report that, in the end, provides an interesting mix of strategies employers can implement to help curb harassment in the workplace.
- Start at the top. Creating a workplace culture and environment in which harassment isn’t tolerated must start at the very top of the organization. From there, it must trickle down to all levels, across all positions within the company. This means, when it comes to training, everyone must be involved — executives, managers, subordinates, customer-facing employees … everyone.
- Watch out for the legal liability conundrum. Over the past 30 years, a lot of anti-harassment training has failed as a prevention tool because it has been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability.
- Don’t just copy and paste. One-size-fits-all training doesn’t exist. Just because a particular training program worked for one employer, doesn’t mean it’s right for your organization. Training is most effective when it’s tailored to your organization.
- Conduct “bystander intervention” training. This type of training is increasingly used to combat sexual violence on school campuses — with great success. It empowers co-workers (and students) to intervene when they witness harassing behavior, and it gives them tools with which to intervene.
- Conduct “workplace civility” training. The idea is to promote respect and civility in the workplace — rather than focusing on “what not to do.”
- Stress how to report/complain. Make sure your anti-harassment policy — particularly its details on how to report/complain about harassment — is frequently communicated to employees.
- Offer multiple points of contact. Make sure employees have a range of methods and points of contact they can use to report offensive behavior. Just providing an employee with one point of contact — say, the person’s direct supervisor — for reporting harassment may cause problems if that supervisor is the harasser.
- Run tests. Periodically test your reporting system to assess how well it works and how serious managers treat complaints.
- Hold managers accountable. Make sure your mid-level managers and front-line supervisors are held accountable — through the use of metrics and performance reviews — for how well they respond to workplace harassment/complaints.
- Get data. Conduct regular employee surveys to assess the extent to which harassment is affecting your organization.
In addition, Heidi-Jane Olguin, CEO of Progressive Management Resources, who was invited to speak at one of the task force’s meetings this past winter, suggested ways employers can make harassment training even more effective.
- Conduct training every 12 to 18 months.
- Use live trainers.
- Train in multiple languages when large segments of a workforce aren’t fluent in English.
- Train employees, managers and HR representatives separately.