EEOC workplace harassment task force named as problem behavior persists

The EEOC has named the members of a task force that will examine how to prevent workplace harassment.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, the body responsible for investigating claims of harassment, discrimination, and other workplace legal violations against federal employees, has begun a task force to study harassment in the workplace.

On Monday, March 30, the EEOC announced the membership of the task force, which will examine how harassment can be addressed and prevented. The task force will also focus on industries where harassment is recurring and ongoing. The co-chairs of the task force are EEOC Commissioners Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic. The remaining members come from diverse backgrounds, including attorneys, academics, employee advocacy groups, and organized labor.

The task force is expected to conduct research throughout the year and won't release the results of its findings until 2016.

The EEOC also recently released data regarding complaints it received in 2014. While overall complaints were down and employees recovered less than in 2013 on harassment and discrimination claims, that was attributable to the government shutdown, not a decrease in workplace harassment. Harassment complaints comprised 30 percent of all charges received by the EEOC in 2014 and remain "a persistent problem" according to EEOC Chair Jenny Yang.

Help for employees who have experienced harassment

While the EEOC task force investigates harassment in federal government jobs and in the private sector, federal employees do have legal options when faced with harassing behavior. Under federal law, federal employees who experience intimidation, ridicule, insult, disparaging comments, or physical conduct based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or sexual orientation have legal recourse.

If the EEOC finds that the claim has merit, the employee who experiences discrimination or harassment may be entitled to monetary damages and reinstatement, if appropriate. It is also against the law for federal employers to retaliate against employees who make a claim of harassment. This is true whether the underlying claim of harassment is successful or not.

Harassment, unlike discrimination, is generally cumulative. That is to say, one instance of a harassing remark or behavior is generally not harassment, unless it is extreme or highly offensive. However, if the behavior persists, the employee has a valid claim of harassment against the employer, no matter if the harassment was by a supervisor or colleague. This is true whether there is an official policy against harassment. As one EEOC official recently testified before Congress, "having a policy is insufficient if it is not communicated understandably to the workforce."

At The Devadoss Law Firm, our attorneys understand the rights of federal employees and have experience helping employees in all facets of claims filed with the EEOC. If you are a federal employee and have experienced discrimination or harassment, contact our office to discuss your legal options.

Keywords: Harassment, discrimination, federal employees, protected class, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, The Devadoss Law Firm.