The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has proposed guidance on preventing sexual harassment that recommends training employees on civility—a recommendation at odds with recent National Labor Relations Board decisions in favor of free speech as a part of concerted activity. The disagreement makes it difficult for employers to know what disruptive employee behavior they must—and don’t need to—tolerate. The first step to resolve the differences between the EEOC’s and NLRB’s stances on civility in the workplace is to have a dialogue about it.
In addition to barring sexual harassment, equal employment opportunity laws prohibit harassment based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability and genetic information. The proposed guidance also stated that harassment based on sexual orientation is prohibited. The proposed guidance’s suggestions on harassment prevention include training that should be:
- Championed by senior leaders.
- Repeated and reinforced regularly.
- Provided to employees at every level and location of the organization.
- Provided in all languages commonly used by employees.
- Tailored to the specific workplace and workforce.
- Conducted by qualified, live, interactive trainers or, if live training is not feasible, designed to include active engagement by participants.
- Routinely evaluated by participants and revised as necessary.
“Employers also may find it helpful to consider and implement new forms of training, such as workplace civility training,” the proposed guidance added. Such training shows “significant promise for preventing harassment in the workplace,” the guidance noted.
Seeking Comment on Sexual Harassment Prevention
“I am pleased that we are able to follow up on the recommendations in our harassment prevention report with this release of the draft enforcement guidance on unlawful harassment,” said EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum. “This guidance clearly sets forth the commission’s positions on harassment law, provides helpful explanatory examples and provides promising practices based on the recommendations in the report. I believe it will be a helpful resource for employers and employees alike, and I look forward to receiving comments from the public.”