Using EEO Expertise To Fight Workplace Harassment

November 10, 2022 by Lisa Sigler

Using EEO Expertise To Fight Workplace Harassment

Anti-harassment is the main event, but agencies can leverage the processes, knowledge, and technological savvy from long-standing EEO programs to help them go the distance.

President Biden’s Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce (E.O. 14035) includes specific provisions regarding workplace harassment. These provisions are driving many agencies to implement or revise their anti-harassment programs. Some organizations are doing this by expanding existing equal employment opportunity (EEO) programs, while others consider anti-harassment a separate initiative. In either case, the ways that agencies have used software applications to address employment discrimination in the past can provide a roadmap for their new anti-harassment activities.

Tale of the Tape: Comparing EEO and Anti-Harassment Programs

E.O. 14035, published June 25, 2021, stipulates the creation of a governmentwide Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Initiative and Strategic Plan comprising a “comprehensive framework” for addressing workplace harassment. This framework includes processes for preventing, reporting, responding to, and investigating harassment. It must also “promote a data-driven approach to increase transparency and accountability.” While not specifically requiring technological solutions to support anti-harassment programs, the call to use data implies the need for technology to collect, store, manage, analyze, and report information about harassment claims.

This aligns with how most large federal agencies have already been managing EEO complaints. Stemming from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, EEO programs are well-established throughout the federal government. Federal agencies have EEO processes in place to not only proactively address employment discrimination, but also to log complaints, manage investigations, and track evidence.

Agencies must also report on their progress; for example, agencies are required to compile and submit the annual 462 Report and comply with the No FEAR Act to show how many EEO complaints they have received and resolved each year. Because they collect and analyze so much data to comply with these and other requirements, most EEO offices have long since invested in case management software applications. These applications manage not only the data, but also the entire complaint handling process.

While the specifics are different, in broad strokes the processes and the requirements are similar between EEO and anti-harassment programs.

  • Complaint submission: In both cases, the agency needs a mechanism for an individual to file a complaint. Online web portals can provide an efficient, discreet, and, if needed, anonymous way to submit complaint information.
  • Case management: The complaint must be investigated, and evidence must be collected. With an automated system, workflows and business rules can help to manage the progress of the complaint.
  • Document management: Complaint investigations can generate many documents, including final reports. Software applications can be used to upload documents and files to a case record, so all the data is stored in a centralized location.
  • Calendaring: Timelines, dates, and deadlines must be observed. Software applications can be programmed to generate alerts, reminders, and even email prompts to keep the complaint process moving.
  • Analytics: Digging into the collected data can provide insight into trends among the claims filed. This can assist in combatting harassment or discrimination in the workplace.

Using Data To Get Harassment on the Ropes

Following the EEO model to create an anti-harassment program may help an agency comply with transparency and reporting requirements, but no progress can be made in fighting harassment unless the collected data is analyzed and used. Ongoing analysis may reveal that a certain type of harassment is most prevalent across an organization, or that there are problems in specific departments or on certain projects. The analysis may help the agency identify training, pinpoint problematic personnel, or lead to new policies and guidance. Tracking when and how harassment occurs provides opportunities to prevent harassment altogether.

Prevention is key because harassment is incredibly harmful. Harassment in the workplace violates federal law and policy when it is based on the protected EEO classes of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation), national origin, age, disability, or genetic information, and retaliation based on previous EEO activity. It has devastating effects on individuals, and it also costs organizations millions of dollars each year.

Harassment can cause poor workplace morale, reduced productivity, and high turnover of both victims and witnesses to harassment. If complaints turn into lawsuits, the organization may be forced to contend with the costs of litigation as well as any judgements or settlements. Beyond the monetary impact, agencies can find themselves in the headlines due to increasing harassment cases or cases that are not managed properly. The ability to effectively handle harassment as soon as it is reported, and to identify potential areas before the harassment can occur, is a way to avoid these negative results.

Knocking Out Workplace Harassment

Leveraging the processes, in-house knowledge, and technological solutions of the EEO office can give agencies a clearer path to preventing harassment and complying with regulations for reporting and transparency. With a thoughtful approach to implementation, anti-harassment applications can support E.O. 14035’s stated goal to make the federal government a workplace “where all employees are treated with dignity and respect.”

A version of this article was first published on on October 6, 2022. 

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