New EEOC Training Helps Employers Create Respectful Workplaces

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 6, 2017
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Creating a respectful workplace environment is the focus of new training by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) beginning in October, the agency announced Oct. 4.

Its two new harassment prevention programs—"Leading for Respect" for supervisors and "Respect in the Workplace" for employees—deal with civility, acceptable workplace conduct and behaviors that contribute to an inclusive workplace. Training for supervisors is four hours and training for employees is three hours.

The programs are the outgrowth of the EEOC's Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace and the task force's report released in June 2016. The task force's report was previewed at the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition.

One of the key purposes of the task force's work, EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum said at the SHRM 2016 Annual Conference, was to give HR professionals the tools and talking points they need to educate leaders, help shift their organizations toward becoming more-respectful work environments and change behaviors.

The task force found that workplace harassment is a persistent problem and too often goes unreported. Nearly one-third of approximately 90,000 charges the EEOC received in fiscal year (FY) 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment, according to the report. That includes charges related to gender, race, disability, age, ethnicity/national origin, color and religion. 

Among the total number of charges received in FY 2015 that alleged harassment from employees working for private employers or for state and local government employers, approximately:

  • 45 percent alleged harassment on the basis of sex.
  • 34 percent alleged harassment on the basis of race.
  • 19 percent alleged harassment on the basis of disability.
  • 15 percent alleged harassment on the basis of age.
  • 13 percent alleged harassment on the basis of national origin.
  • 5 percent alleged harassment on the basis of religion.   

While there is a business cost to workplace harassment—last year, the EEOC recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging harassment—it also contributes to decreased productivity and increased turnover.

The EEOC said that its new programs differ from traditional compliance training that concentrates solely on legal definitions and standards for liability.

"Much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool; it's been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability," co-authors Victoria Lipnic, EEOC acting chair, and Feldblum wrote in the report. 

"Training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace, and to different cohorts of employees. Finally, when trained correctly, middle managers and first-line supervisors in particular can be an employer's most valuable resource in preventing and stopping harassment."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Workplace Conflict]

In fact, training that focuses strictly on avoiding liability isn't effective, according to a July SHRM Online article, because it can come across as too abstract, boring and not relevant to workers' experiences.

Lipnic said that the EEOC's new programs incorporate the report's recommendations on compliance, workplace civility and bystander intervention training.

Feldblum noted that a strong training program "is a critical piece of a holistic harassment prevention effort." She said the new EEOC training is designed "to stop improper behavior before it ever rises to the level of illegal harassment."

"We know that workplace incivility often acts as a 'gateway drug' to workplace harassment. These trainings, therefore, provide employees with the specific skills they need to act respectfully and to intervene when they observe disrespectful or abusive behavior," she said in a news release.

She and Lipnic write in the report that employees need to know what is considered unacceptable workplace conduct, and managers and supervisors need effective tools that help them observe or respond to harassment reports.

The new, in-person training can be customized for different types of workplaces; time and location of the training is tailored to the employer's need. It includes a section for reviewing an organization's harassment prevention policies and procedures, according to the EEOC.

Private employers and state and government agencies can find more information on the training program on the EEOC Training Institute website, by contacting the nearest Outreach and Education Coordinator, or by contacting program analyst Michelle Crew at michelle.crew@eeoc.gov. There also is a Q&A available online for employers

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