Folks, loyal readers, here is a guest post blog from an esteemed, experienced trial lawyer in Los Angeles. Cortney Shegerian practices employment law in Los Angeles, California at her firm, Shegerian and Associates. She has mediated over 100 cases. Let’s hear what she has to say:

Sexual and non-sexual harassment is currently the number one reason why employees file complaints against their employers with the EEOC, and a new report may have discovered why these complaints are filed so frequently.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently released a report that showed anti-harassment strategies in the workplace are not as effective as they should be. The report showed that training efforts, which have been in place for over 30 years, are not effective in actually preventing harassment since they focus more on avoiding legal liability than stopping the behavior.

Harassment can happen to anyone, but the EEOC did identify a number of factors that could put employees more at risk of being a victim to harassment. These risk factors include:

  • Lack of diversity in the workplace
  • Workers who do not conform to workplace norms
  • Cultural or language barriers
  • External events that could impact employees’ prejudice (for example, terrorist attacks could cause some people to harass Middle Eastern employees)
  • A workplace full of young workers
  • Workplaces with significant power disparities
  • Employees who receive tips or work in customer service
  • Employees who do low-intensity tasks
  • Isolated workspaces
  • A culture that encourages alcohol consumption

The report also found that simply having a harassment policy in place is not enough to prevent it from occurring. In fact, many employees do not file complaints because they fear retaliation from their employers. According to the report, three out of four employees who are harassed because of their sex, race, religion or disability do not report it because they fear they will be blamed, called a liar or punished.

How can employers put an end to harassment? It is the employer’s responsibility to create an open and honest culture within the workplace where employees are encouraged to do the right thing and speak up when they are being harassed. Company culture is built at the top and makes its away down through the organization. Senior level executives and upper level management need to be responsible for setting the tone in the workplace.

To stop harassment, the EEOC also suggests a complete revamp of training procedures to include courses on bystander intervention and the basics of workplace civility. The latter will not focus on the specifics of harassment, but rather on how to respect one another in the workplace. Bystander intervention courses teach employees the importance of reporting inappropriate behavior and supporting their peers. It has been used on college campuses and proven to be successful, according to Chai R. Feldblum, Commissioner of the EEOC.

Finally, the EEOC has a number of resources available to employers, including a toolkit of compliance assistance measures for employers. The agency also plans on launching a campaign called “It’s On Us” to target harassment in the workplace. This campaign will be similar to the one that they launched to raise awareness about sexual assault on college campuses.

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