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Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those doing it.
— Chinese Proverb
 
 

Not Thrilled with Your Company’s Harassment Training Program? You May Not Be Alone

Recently, a task force for the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) finished a 14-month study on Harassment in the Workplace.[1]  According to the EEOC’s Executive Report and Recommendations, the 16-member panel did not limit itself to assessing the legal definition of harassment; instead, it broadened its inquiry to include “examination of conduct and behaviors which might not be ‘legally actionable,’ but left unchecked, may set the stage for unlawful harassment.” In other words, conduct that may not immediately subject an employer to liability, but if not addressed, will create a significant risk of litigation.  Accordingly, the EEOC task force studied a variety of issues, including focusing on the substance and extent of company training programs.

The bottom line for the EEOC task force: workplace harassment continues to be a problem and too often goes unreported. The panel reported that three out of four individuals who experienced harassment did not report it to anyone – not to a supervisor, manager, or union representative. According to their findings, the task force concluded that employees fail to report harassing behavior for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, believing they would be blamed for the conduct, disbelief of their claim, and fear of retaliation. 

In addition to assessing the frequency of reporting harassment, the EEOC task force scrutinized the effectiveness of training curricula.  It concluded that the training programs at most employers are ineffective in preventing harassment because the curriculum is too focused on avoiding legal liability and not tailored to specific groups of employees. 

Which brings us to the issue of the sexual harassment lawsuit that we reported on the Workplace FactFinders blog last week where a Houston jury awarded a plaintiff $7.65 million in damages after finding that a Chipotle assistant manager engaged in repeated sexual contact with an underage female employee.  During the litigation, Chipotle issued the following statement:

“Chipotle goes to great lengths to provide safe and productive work environments. We have internal policies, procedures, and training to address issues and potential problems between employees if ever they arise.”[2]

The facts of this case that have been publicly reported appear to bear out the EEOC’s findings that training programs continuously need to be reassessed and tested to mitigate a variety of risk. The media reports and court documentation suggest that no one at the Houston location felt comfortable reporting the misconduct; indeed, the General Manager reportedly “begged” the mother of the underage victim not to go to the police. 

The takeaway of the Chipotle case is that even large companies with established internal controls, including in-house or external training programs, are not immune to failure. If you are concerned about the strength of your company’s internal procedures or you would like an evaluation of these policies, please give Workplace FactFinders a call at (844)321-9733 or send us an email at info@workplacefactfinders.com.

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[1] https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/report_summary.cfm

[2] http://www.chron.com/houston/article/Chipotle-jury-girl-sexual-9438970.php