Workplace harassment remains a persistent problem 30 years after the U.S. Supreme Court first recognized that protection against such on-the-job abuse was prohibited under federal anti-bias laws, EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang (D) said.

“Employers must have situational awareness” of their workplace in order to identify harassment risk factors and develop a “holistic” approach to the prevention of sex-based and other harassment, Commissioner Victoria A. Lipnic (R) said.

Harassment prevention measures may include “civility” and “bystander intervention” training, Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum (D) added, as traditional anti-harassment training is often ineffective as a prevention tool.

Harassment Risk Factors

The EEOC task force's report identified risk factors that employers should watch for to help stamp out harassment. According to the report, harassment is more likely to occur in the following types of workplaces:

  •  homogenous and nondiverse, but also in those that are extremely diverse;
  •  a minority of workers don't conform to norms based on societal stereotypes;
  •  coarse social discourse is prevalent outside the workplace, such as comments following the events of Sept. 11;
  •  many employees working their first or second jobs who may be less aware of what is appropriate behavior;
  •  senior management may be reluctant to challenge the behavior of high-value employees who don't believe the general rules apply to them;
  •  significant power disparities between different groups of workers;
  •  employees' compensation may be directly tied to customer satisfaction or client service;
  •  workers have idle time because they engage in monotonous or low-intensity tasks;
  •  employees are physically isolated or have few opportunities to work with others;
  •  the culture tolerates or encourages alcohol consumption; and
  •  decentralized operations marked by limited communication between organizational levels.

There are limits to what a single employee can accomplish by reporting that she's been harassed, Lilia Cortina, a professor of psychology and women's studies at the University of Michigan, told the commission.

Responding to harassment on an incident-by-incident basis isn't enough; employers need to take a more holistic approach, she said. That includes efforts to combat workplace incivility, she said, echoing the task force's findings.

“General incivility is not so harmless,” as it usually goes hand-in-hand with more egregious forms of workplace abuse, Cortina said.


Read the full article "EEOC Urges New Approaches to Harassment Prevention" at Bloomberg BNA.