On October 4, 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) released preliminary data on sexual harassment claims for FY 2018, which ended on September 30, 2018.  The document, entitled “What You Should Know: EEOC Leads the Way in Preventing Workplace Harassment” summarizes the enforcement and prevention actions taken by the EEOC in the almost two years since the agency released the report of its Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace in June 2016.

It is probably no accident that the report was issued earlier than and apart from other statistics on charges filed with the EEOC and just days following the stunning testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee surrounding the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court.  The opening paragraph is telling:

In the past twelve months, the country heard story after story of sexual harassment that just one year before might never have been told.  The EEOC’s mandate to enforce the nation’s employment discrimination laws affords us a unique perspective and responsibility to address the pervasive problem of sexual harassment to which the rest of the nation is now awakening. For decades, the EEOC has educated workers and employers to prevent harassment and has also investigated, mediated, litigated and adjudicated many thousands of claims of workplace harassment based on sex, race, color, disability, age, national origin, and religion.  

The following are some noteworthy statistics:

  • The agency filed 66 lawsuits challenging workplace harassment, 41 of which alleged sexual harassment, more than a 50 percent increase in suits challenging sexual harassment over FY 2017.
  • Charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by more than 12 percent from fiscal year 2017, a significant increase given the fact that the number of charges has been fairly flat in recent years.
  • For charges alleging harassment, reasonable cause findings increased to nearly 1,200 in FY 2018 compared to 970 in FY 2017. Successful conciliations reached nearly 500 up from 348 in FY 2017.
  • The EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for victims of sexual harassment through administrative enforcement and litigation in FY 2018, up from $47.5 million in FY 2017.

Also of significance is the EEOC statement that it met the heightened demand for information and advice regarding harassment, likely in response not only to the EEOC’s own task force work but also as the result of the increased publicity of the issue in the wake of the #metoo movement.  Visits to the website’s harassment page more than doubled as individuals and employers sought information on the topic.

Finally, the EEOC has developed more literature and training materials to assist businesses in avoiding and responding to claims of harassment including workplace civility training.  Given the events, not only of the past year, but of recent weeks, it has become even more clear that better and more expansive training is needed, especially around the issue of reporting and responding to complaints.  It remains true that the most effective training will be dynamic, interactive, and will be tailored to the specific workforce to which it is presented.  All employees, with special attention to be paid to supervisors and managers, need to be involved in the training and reminded of the joint responsibility of all members of a workplace community to maintain a respectful and safe environment for employees and visitors.  Accountability and transparency are critical, both as a risk management tool, but also as a path to becoming an employer of choice.