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EEOC updates harassment guidelines for first time in 25 years

On Behalf of | May 20, 2024 | Sexual Harassment

Workplace harassment remains a major challenge for California workers. As people feel greater freedom to express themselves, there is growing concern that they will face negative implications in the workplace because of it.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issues guidance to address various workplace issues. It had not officially updated how harassment should be handled in 25 years. Now it has released its new guidance. Employers and employees must be aware of how workplace behavior will be assessed to prepare for the changing landscape.

EEOC strives to effectively update workplace guidance

Harassment comes in many forms. Sexual harassment was once categorized as occurring when workers were subjected to offensive comments, aggressive attempts at starting a personal relationship outside work, unwanted touching and similar acts, it will now extend to people’s gender identity and sexual orientation. It will also oversee how people behave on social media when they are not at work and on workplace emails.

The EEOC issued a reminder to employers that they need to be proactive when there are harassment issues taking place to prevent them from escalating. Simply ignoring the problem when it has yet to reach a point where it is considered severe and action is required tends to allow some behaviors to pass.

Effective strategies to mitigate harassment include a comprehensive policy that employees will understand; giving workers who feel as if they have been harassed options to report what happened; provide education for all employees regardless of their position to realize when behavior constitutes harassment; and making sure the policies are followed with a beneficial complaint protocol.

Since the EEOC last issued its guidance, much has changed. Specifically, online behavior has risen exponentially when compared to 1999. Many workers function in their jobs solely online. This brings a level of convenience but also makes them vulnerable to a new type of harassment. This is where the guidance on workplace email platforms and social media enters the equation.

Know how the new guidance will affect workers

With the new guidelines in play, it is important for workplaces to adapt. That means employers should show greater vigilance to people and what type of harassment they might be subjected to for their race, national origin, age, religious beliefs, disability, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Harassment could include being subjected to joking that goes beyond the boundaries of propriety; seeing offensive material; being demoted for reasons other than performance; having colleagues and superiors trying to initiate romantic relationships when they are unwanted; and losing the job entirely. For these cases, it is important to recognize when workplace harassment has taken place and take the appropriate steps to hold the employer and those who misbehaved accountable.