Originally published: April 11, 2017
A few weeks ago, the public comment period for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) proposed guidance on unlawful workplace harassment closed, drawing mixed responses from commentators. The purpose of the proposed guidance, which was issued this past January, is to educate practitioners, employers and employees on the agency’s position toward the different types of harassment that Title VII prohibits.
Under the proposed guidance, the EEOC’s definition of harassment based on sex, which is protected by Title VII, now includes an “individual’s transgender status or the individual’s intent to transition,” “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” “Using a name or pronoun inconsistent with the individual’s gender identity in a persistent or offensive manner” also constitutes sex-based harassment.
The proposed guidance comes on the heels of the EEOC’s June 2016 Select Task Force Report on Workplace Harassment, which examined the prevalence of workplace harassment and offered recommendations for responding to and preventing it. According to the report, nearly one-third of all charges filed with the EEOC are for workplace harassment and 45 percent of all charges filed in the private sector are for sexual harassment. As such statistics make clear, workplace harassment – particularly sexual harassment – is an issue all employers should have on their radar.