The EEOC has signaled its intent to aggressively pursue harassment cases against employers—especially when the harassment is perpetrated by anyone in a supervisory role.
First, the commission in January rolled out comprehensive new harassment enforcement guidance. Now it has begun filing lawsuits on behalf of workers it believes have been harassed.
The latest case was filed in February against Dollar General for harassment that allegedly occurred at the retailer’s Red Banks, Miss., store. A female employee complained that her boss made unwelcome sexual comments to her and sent inappropriate text messages. After a three-month internal investigation, Dollar General finally fired the supervisor.
But it turns out that the woman hadn’t been the first to complain about the supervisor’s behavior. That, according to EEOC guidance, probably indicated that the retailer missed an opportunity to prevent further harassment.
The EEOC tried to negotiate a settlement, but filed suit on the employee’s behalf when it couldn’t reach an agreement with Dollar General. Now the commission is requesting monetary damages and an injunction to prevent others from being harassed in the future. The EEOC suit also states that it wants to play an active role in Dollar General’s harassment prevention efforts going forward.
Advice: Make sure your process for handling harassment complaints includes quick action when the alleged harasser is a supervisor. Three months is too long, especially if it appears an incident might be part of an ongoing pattern of harassment.
You have an obligation to stop current harassment and take action strong enough to prevent future harassment. Immediately separate bosses from employees who complain about supervisor harassment. Do so in a way that cannot be interpreted as punishing the subordinate. For example, don’t transfer the employee to another shift; move the supervisor instead.
Read the proposed enforcement guidance on workplace harassment at www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EEOC-2016-0009. That’s also where HR professionals are invited to submit public comments that could shape how the guidance is ultimately implemented.