Last week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed seven lawsuits against employers across the country alleging harassment and retaliation. The lawsuits allege workplace harassment based on race, national origin and sex, and involve workers in a wide range of fields such as country clubs, cleaners, sports bars, the airline industry, health care and grocery stores. The sheer volume of cases and the breadth of employers against whom these suits were filed serves as an important reminder to all employers that the EEOC continues to actively monitor, investigate and enforce federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination.
Of the cases filed, five allege sexual harassment, two allege racial harassment and one includes allegations that discrimination occurred based upon an employee’s national origin. While the facts of the cases vary, the single most important lesson to be learned from all seven lawsuits is that employers must be proactive if they hope to minimize or prevent workplace discrimination. Strong anti-discrimination policies and procedures, in conjunction with effective training of employees and managers, is critical to an employer’s ability to avoid and defend claims of discrimination, harassment or retaliation.
Let’s be honest. No one, not even the best employers, can prevent derogatory remarks, unwelcome touching or inappropriate conduct in the workplace 100% of the time. But employers can work proactively to create and foster a work environment that is safe and productive for all employees if and when harassing behavior occurs. That starts with the drafting of compliant workplace policies and procedures, extends into their practical implementation and, if needed, enforcement – all of which is reinforced by regular anti-harassment and sensitivity training. In the seven lawsuits filed this week, employers either had knowledge of offensive behavior and failed to take action, failed to investigate reports of harassment, or retaliated against employees who reported harassment. Each of these lawsuits may have been avoided if employers and managers had been effectively trained to address the behaviors and to prevent any retaliatory actions being taken against employees who report such harassment.
As mentioned in an earlier Clark & Gotzler blog, our attorneys and HR professionals at Clark & Gotzler have experience drafting compliant anti-harassment policies and procedures. We can review and update your policies and procedures as necessary. Equally as important, our attorneys and HR professionals are experienced providers of this EEOC-recommended anti-harassment training for your employees and managers. Our trainings are tailored to your policies, include interactive dialog and role play to illustrate nuanced behaviors, and review common and specific situations to assess what may rise to the level of inappropriate harassment or discrimination. We also deliver additional training specifically directed at managers and supervisors to address their enhanced responsibilities and role in providing a safe workplace. Following EEOC guidance, we recommend this employee and manager training be delivered live and by an experienced trainer. We also recommend that the training occur on a regular basis, perhaps every year, with a signed acknowledgement of understanding and attendance from each attendee to be placed in their personnel file. Our trainers have designed and delivered anti-harassment training that was reviewed and approved by the EEOC as well as training compliant with the State of California’s specific statutory training requirements.
Based upon the EEOC’s recent lawsuits, employers should think of this training as an investment in their organization. Decades of academic research and real-life experience support the finding that the effects of harassment and discrimination in the workplace take a significant toll on employees and diminish their engagement and productivity. In their full manifestation, investigations into allegations of harassment or discrimination, and related litigation, are tremendously costly in terms of time, energy, and financial resources of any organization. It is best to try to minimize those worst-case scenarios by taking all reasonable steps within your employer power to foster a workplace that is safe and productive for all employees.
Please contact any of the attorneys or HR professionals at Clark & Gotzler about scheduling a review of your existing policies and procedures, as well as anti-harassment and discrimination training for your employees and managers.