The EEOC just issued proposed enforcement guidance on workplace harassment, and it provides a window into the kinds of things the agency’s now looking to prevent – through litigation if necessary. 

What managers must stop

Overall, there are few things in the guidance that would surprise HR professionals, but the EEOC did mention three future areas of focus that may raise managers’ eyebrows.

Employers would be wise to include these points of emphasis in future harassment training:

1. Harassment with no intended victim

The EEOC guidance says behavior can be harassing, even if it’s not directed at a person(s).

An example would be allowing pornographic or other potentially offensive material to be displayed or discussed in the office.

2. Harassment outside the office

If management knows, or should know, that one worker is being harassed by another off-site, and does nothing to stop it, that’s just as bad as if that harassment had occurred on company property.

Recent EEOC litigation shows this extends to customers as well. Employers have to protect workers from known harassment by customers as well as co-workers.

3. Anyone perceived to be “the boss” must know what to do

If an employee complains to someone whom he or she believes is their “boss,” it’ll likely satisfy the worker’s need to report harassment — and trigger an employer’s need to act to prevent any future harassment.

Employment law attorney Robin Shea said on her blog,, this is more likely to happen on shifts when no true manager is on duty – like third shift.

Shea says if a worker reports harassment to a lead person who’s viewed as the “boss,” that lead person has to know to go to their manager or HR.

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