Ever since the allegations against Harvey Weinstein hit the news, sexual harassment has been on the front page. Thousands of women have come forward to journalists, in social media, and to each other to discuss sexual harassment.
By pure coincidence, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is issuing new guidelines for sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s the first time the guidelines have been updated in 20 years.
The guidelines were approved on Nov. 7, then sent to the Office of Management and Budget to be approved. The guidelines have to be approved before they will be released to be compared against the current guidelines.
According to the EEOC, “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”
How much clearer do the guidelines need to be? Employers are already encouraged to “take all steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, such as affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, developing appropriate sanctions, informing employees of their right to raise and how to raise the issue of harassment under Title VII, and developing methods to sensitize all concerned.”
Many employers require sexual harassment training already.
The EEOC’s statistics on sexual harassment claims suggest that the problem isn’t as bad as it seems. In 2011, 11,364 claims were reported. In 1997, over 15,000 claims were received.
And yet, the big question is “how many claims never make it to the EEOC?” Companies have internal policies to manage sexual harassment. It stands to reason that they wouldn’t want their “dirty laundry” aired.
Bloomberg reported that the U.S. Senate has approved a resolution that mandates sexual harassment training for all Senate employees, including senators. Currently, the training is optional. NPR requires training for its employees and managers. Former NPR news editor Michael Oreskes was recently fired amid sexual harassment claims. Reports say that he did not complete his. But even if he had, would it have mattered?
The EEOC can issue guidelines all it wants. Until the culture changes, we’re not going to see a real decline in sexual harassment in the workplace, in religion or in the home. We blame the victim for dressing a certain way or enticing someone to act improperly.
Worse, we shame victims for coming forward. And harassers are often judged and sentenced without due process, not necessarily in the legal atmosphere, but in the court of public opinion.
It’s up to businesses to create safe workplaces where employees can be free from sexual harassment. Complaints need to be handled fairly and impartially. It has to start at the top.
Leaders have to be held accountable and hold themselves to a high standard. It’s not about guidelines and enforcement. It’s about being decent human beings and treating people right without regard to gender.