The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has won an important settlement around unlawful workplace harassment against Hyundai contractor, Sys-Con, LLC. These enforcement actions by the EEOC are a clear signal that zero tolerance for hostile environment harassment and retaliation is the new norm. The results include heavier fines and mandated anti harassment training requirements.
What’s the Definition of a Hostile Work Environment?
A hostile work environment comes about as a result of harassment, which is defined by the EEOC as “a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).”
Furthermore, harassment is unwelcome conduct that “becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
In the case of the suit against Sys-Con filed by the EEOC in the Middle District of Alabama, the company settled for $70,000 according to a recent press release by the EEOC. The details of the case provide a textbook definition of a hostile work environment where a supervisor demanded sexual favors from two female employees, assaulted one of them and then threatened retaliation against the women and their husbands who were also employees.
The settlement seems light when you take into account the details of this hostile work environment bullying, assault and threats. According to the press release, in addition to the settlement, Sys-Con is now required to:
- provide annual unlawful harassment training to all supervisors, managers and other employees
- revise company policies to communicate and implement the company’s commitment to creating and maintain a harassment-free workplace
- provide a written confirmation of the company’s commitment to promoting a workplace free of discriminatory practices
Mandatory Anti Harassment Training
Mandatory anti harassment training is a frequent point of emphasis in consent decrees. Why? There are still a mind-boggling number of organizations that are not training employees on the importance of recognizing and preventing incidents of harassment (be it sexual harassment or other variants) before they become like Sys-Con.
Sys-Con’s case represented the “perfect storm” of incidents when it comes to harassment within an organization – the definition of a hostile work environment that included quid pro quo harassment, sexual assault and retaliation. Clearly the organization was not doing enough to educate their staff to prevent even one of these incidents from occurring.
In today’s #MeToo era, organizations need to be more proactive in training their employees on the topic of sexual harassment. No person should have to endure a sexually hostile work environment. Business owners, with the help of their Human Resources department, need to work together to make sure they are actively protecting their employees – through clear communication, setting clear expectations and policies and offering annual anti-harassment training programs – including but not limited to – sexual harassment, workplace harassment, workplace discrimination and other similar training programs.
What Can You Do?
A hostile workplace caused by any form of harassment affects both the individuals involved and the organization as a whole — and can put your organization at risk legally and financially as well as cause reputational damage.
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