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EEOC Updates Guidance on Workplace Harassment

Person using a pen to fill out a workplace harassment form.

New guidelines reflect 25 years of changes in the law and the workplace

Last month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal anti-discrimination laws, issued updated enforcement guidance on unlawful workplace harassment. This is the first time the federal agency has updated its guidance on the subject since 1999.

While the EEOC's guidelines do not themselves have the force of law, they reflect the agency's interpretation of the current state of the law and indicate how the agency will proceed in enforcement actions. Since harassment complaints are more than one-third of the complaints the agency receives, this change in enforcement will have a massive impact on the employment law landscape. Moreover, the guidelines can also be cited by employment law attorneys to back up legal arguments.

It's important for employees to know their rights and options when dealing with harassment in the workplace. If you believe you have been unlawfully harassed, our attorneys can listen to your story in a free case evaluation.

How the new guidelines affect gender and sexual orientation harassment

Part of the impetus for the new guidelines was the Supreme Court's 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which held that federal laws that ban discrimination on the basis of sex also apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. (Bostock itself was about a worker who was fired, but the EEOC says that the Supreme Court's reasoning applies to harassment cases as well.)

The EEOC's updated guidance states that an employer refusing to use an employee's correct pronouns or barring a worker from using a bathroom that matches their gender identity are examples of unlawful harassment. To be clear, harassment claims are almost always based on a pattern of behavior, so it is highly unlikely that a single instance of using incorrect pronouns would be sufficient to sustain a harassment case. However, the EEOC's guidance indicates that a sustained, pervasive workplace environment in which employees' gender identities are not respected is illegal.

The new guidelines also address harassment in the remote workplace

When the EEOC's enforcement guidelines were last updated in 1999, remote work was far less common than it is today. The new guidance responds to a quarter-century of changes in the workplace, including the possibility of harassment occurring online and outside the traditional workplace.

For instance, the EEOC's new guidelines address discriminatory comments made during video meetings and on office messaging platforms such as Slack. They also state that conduct outside the workplace, such as harassment on social media, can be part of an unlawful harassment claim if the conduct affects employees' working conditions.

Our attorneys stand up for victims of unlawful harassment

Employees have a right to a workplace free from unlawful harassment on the basis of race, religion, sex, pregnancy, disability, or any other protected characteristic. They also have a right to pursue legal recourse if their employer allows such harassment to occur. But the law isn't self-enforcing; workers need to take action to protect their rights and hold employers accountable. That's where we come in.

The experienced employment law attorneys at Gibson Law, LLC are proud to stand up for employees in Ohio when their rights are violated in the workplace. If you believe you have been illegally harassed or discriminated against at work, give us a call for a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation.

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