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Employment Law Notebook

Preventing Sexual Harassment at Work Starts at the Top

It has become commonplace to see news story after news story in which women are speaking out about being sexually harassed by high-level and high profile men.  The good news is that this shows that more women are starting to feel it is a safe environment to talk about sexual harassment.  Unfortunately, as a practical matter, in workplaces across this country, many women do not feel comfortable bringing this up at work.  According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) Task Force on Harassment, roughly three out of four individuals who experience harassment never talk to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassment for fear they will not be believed, nothing will be done to address it, or they will be blamed or retaliated against for doing so.

This is particularly true when women are subjected to inappropriate sexual comments or contact by their male bosses or they observe men in upper management positions engaging in such conduct themselves or ignoring it when they see other men doing it. That’s why all the anti-harassment policies and training in the world are not going to stop this behavior if management at the top of the organization does not set the tone that this is unacceptable. Indeed, the EEOC’s Task Force on Harassment concluded that maintaining a workplace culture in which harassment is not tolerated “must start with and involve the highest level of management of the company.”   

Here are some of the EEOC’s recommendations to change the tide on this issue.

·       

Employers should foster an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated, and in which respect and civility are promoted. Employers should communicate and model a consistent commitment to that goal.

·       

Employers should ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is prompt and proportionate to the severity of the infraction. In addition, employers should ensure that where harassment is found to have occurred, discipline is consistent, and does not give (or create the appearance of) undue favor to any particular employee.

·       

Employers should hold mid-level managers and front-line supervisors accountable for preventing and/or responding to workplace harassment, including through the use of metrics and performance reviews.

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Employers should assess their workplaces for the risk factors associated with harassment and explore ideas for minimizing those risks.

·       

Employers should devote sufficient resources to harassment prevention efforts, both to ensure that such efforts are effective, and to reinforce the credibility of leadership's commitment to creating a workplace free of harassment.

To review the full EEOC report, go to https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/report_summary.cfm.

Lisa I. Fried-Grodin is a partner with the employment law firm of Meyers Fried-Grodin LLP, which has offices in Parsippany, NJ and New York City.

 

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