November 8, 2017
Authored by: Julie O'Dell and Madeline Klebanov
The wave of sexual harassment allegations against high profile media moguls such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and Mark Halperin has put sexual harassment issues in the public spotlight. All employers, even those not in the “biz,” should take this opportunity to review their sexual harassment training and policies and consider ways to improve their workplace culture.
In a recent exclusive interview with Law360, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) acting Chair Victoria Lipnic reiterated the EEOC’s focus on sexual harassment and retaliation across a wide range of industries. See Law360, “We See This Everywhere, EEOC Chair Says of Weinstein,” Braden Campbell (Oct. 24, 2017), available at https://www.law360.com/employment/articles/977719/-we-see-this-everywhere-eeoc-chair-says-of-weinstein?nl_pk=2905a360-50ef-439a-8c8c-a294a6bf3896&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=employment. Lipnic’s interview highlights the importance for employers to review their policies and take affirmative steps to create a positive work environment.
According to Lipnic, “We see this everywhere. This happens to women in workplaces all over the place. You look at the companies that, just last year where the EEOC brought suits. It’s food processing plants, a correctional facility, a car dealership, restaurants, agriculture. It’s across industries.” She discussed an EEOC task force, which concluded in a June 2016 report that approximately 75% of women who experience sexual harassment do not complain internally. Discussing deterrents to reporting, she stated, “Most people, particularly in terms of sex harassment, are not going to come to the EEOC and file a charge. Only about 30 percent of women who experience harassment ever complain internally.”
In the interview, Lipnic discussed steps employers can take to combat harassment and encourage reporting. She noted that it is critical for leaders to support anti-harassment initiatives because workers get the wrong message when leadership does not participate in training. Lipnic also suggested sending anonymous surveys to the workforce to get feedback on office culture. She emphasized the importance of training supervisors on how to receive complaints, and to ensure that employees know how to complain.
While Lipnic indicated that the EEOC is “very close” to releasing new sexual harassment guidance, she stated that the solution may not be through changes to regulations or legislation. She noted, “I think what we are seeing is almost the failure of liability to address this. I think we all, societally, have to look at multifaceted ways to address this.”
Now, more than ever, with sexual harassment allegations becoming an increasing focus in the media, employers should review their sexual harassment (as well as anti-discrimination) policies, examine the training provided, and consider ways to improve their workplace culture to create and maintain a positive work environment.
Bryan Cave LLP has a team of knowledgeable lawyers and other professionals prepared to help employers assess their employment policies and training, including prohibiting discrimination and harassment. If you or your organization would like more information on creating a positive workplace environment or any other employment issue, please contact an attorney in the Labor and Employment practice group.