Professionalism/Workplace Harassment Training

Workplace HarassmentEdit


Workplace harassment is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or genetic information[1]. It also defines it as conduct that creates an environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Over the past 60 years, the United States Government has implemented several laws to prevent workplace harassment[2]. In 1964, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This law was the first to make it illegal to discriminate against anyone anywhere, anytime, and for any reason[3]. While it represented a significant victory towards equality in legality, it did not cover those experiencing discrimination because of age or disability. In 1967, Congress enacted the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibited discrimination in the workplace for those over the age of 40[4]. In 1990, President Bush pushed the Americans with Disabilities Act, preventing discrimination against those with disabilities in public, school, work, etc[5].

In 2017, the EEOC reported that 61% of workers over the age of 45 had seen or experienced age discrimination at work. 38% of women had experienced sexual or gender based harassment in the workplace. 31.9% of harassment cases reported to the EEOC were related to disabilities[6]. After enacting the above laws, reports increased dramatically.

Case StudiesEdit

Racial Discrimination - Ford Motor CompanyEdit

In 2017, Faisal Khalaf, a former Ford Engineer, was awarded 16.8 million after suing Ford for racial discrimination[7]. The supervisors would harass him during meetings by interrupting him to yell at him for his accent and berate him about his accent. During some meetings, they would have him get coffee for the attendees. Khalaf took a leave of absence due to workplace stress and upon return, he reported his supervisors to the human resources department. After filing the report, he was instructed to take ESL classes to improve his English and they did not speak with the supervisors. After the harassment continued, he reported two of his supervisors at Ford to the EEOC for racial and national origin discrimination. Shortly after filing with the EEOC, Khalaf's employment was terminated at Ford[8].

In response to the case, Ford stood by their actions during Khalaf's employment. They claimed that their supervisor had not harassed Khalaf. Ford has been the center of several other workplace harassment cases including sexual and racial harassment in 2017[9].

Racial Discrimination - FedExEdit

FedEx has been involved in multiple settlements involving racial discrimination.

In 2007, FedEx settled for $53 million and promised to “implement multiple steps to promote equal employment opportunities, including making its performance evaluation process less discretionary, discarding use of the “Basic Skills Test” as a prerequisite to promotion into certain desirable positions, and changing employment policies to demonstrate that its revised practices do not continue to foster racial discrimination”. [10]The allegations were that 20,000 hourly employees in the companies’ western region were affected by racial discrimination by “passing them over for promotion, paying them less than white workers and treating them unfairly in evaluation and disciplinary proceedings”.[11]

In 2012, FedEx settled for $3 million with the United States Department of Labor. They were charged because of an audit that found minorities were not hired at the same rate as white applicants. This is a unique case because there was no individual complaint. The audit found that about 10% more of the white applicants were hired compared to blacks and the gap widened for Hispanic and Native American applicants. “The bottom line is we admitted no wrongdoing,” Patrick Fitzgerald, a spokesman for FedEx Ground said. He also declared that the Labor Department’s position was unlawful. [12]

Allegations of Sexual Harassment - Anita Hill vs. Clarence ThomasEdit

In 1991, Clarence Thomas was nominated to the the Supreme Court. Since he had only been a judge for a year, his good character was used as his primary qualification. During the background investigation, a private interview between Anita Hill and the FBI was leaked. On October 11, 1991, Anita Hill testified in televised hearings that Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and the EEOC. She alleged that he asked her out multiple times, and when she refused, he discussed inappropriate things in multiple work situations. [13] Four female witnesses were available to support Hill's claims, but they were never called. Hill took a polygraph test that supported that she was telling the truth, and Thomas did not take a polygraph test.[14] The hearing turned into a "he said, she said" scenario. Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court by the narrowest margin since the 19th century. Before these hearings, the term "sexual harassment" had not been widely referenced in the media or in harassment discussions.

This case study is most important for the resulting effects. After the confirmation hearings, President George H. W. Bush dropped his opposition to a bill that gave harassment victims the right to seek federal damage awards, back pay, and reinstatement. [15] This law was then passed by Congress. One year later, harassment complaints filed within the EEOC went up 50%. Additionally, private companies started training programs to deter sexual harassment.

The Future of Workplace Harassment TrainingEdit

As laws were passed in relation to harassment, employers updated their policies to satisfy legal requirements. In the age of the #MeToo movement [16], the future of workplace harassment policies and training is focused on "creating and fostering a workplace culture of respect and inclusion" rather than simple compliance with the law. Connecticut, California, and Maine have all required that specific employers provide anti-harassment training for supervisors. Recently, New York State passed a law that requires "all employers to provide annual anti-sexual harassment trainings to all employees." [17] Other states that do not currently have laws in place regarding workplace harassment training should take note of these initiatives and work to build out their own.

Companies must move past legal compliance and create trainings that are effective in preventing harassment. In addition, trainings cannot be the sole deterrent from harassment. It must be part of a "holistic anti-harassment effort" combined with solid policies and procedures and committed senior leadership. Existing programs should be evaluated for their effectiveness and updated accordingly. [18]