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Harassment in the workplace remains a persistent problem

Employers in Pennsylvania and throughout the country could do more to combat harassment in the workplace according to a report released in June 2016 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The report was compiled by a task force made up of legal experts, academics and members of groups that advocate on behalf of workers and employers. It concluded that the training programs put into place to address workplace harassment often focus more on avoiding liability than actually tackling the problem.

Workplace harassment was classified as a form of unlawful discrimination by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986, but efforts to stem the problem have often relied on implementing more streamlined reporting and response procedures rather than addressing workplace cultures that sometimes foster or even encourage harassment. About a third of the charges filed each year with the EEOC deal with some form of on-the-job harassment.

The EEOC report also points out that harassment policies may be largely ineffective when harassed workers remain silent because they fear retaliation or feel that little would be accomplished by speaking up. However, encouraging workers to get involved when they witness harassment could help to change hostile working environments. The report notes that bystander intervention programs have proven successful on college campuses as a way of preventing sexual assaults.

Workers who have suffered harassment while on the job are sometimes reluctant to file a complaint because they are unsure of where the line is drawn. Attorneys with experience in workplace discrimination cases could be familiar with these concerns. A lawyer could describe the protections that workers enjoy under federal law and the penalties that employers could face for violating these laws or taking retaliatory action against employees who file a grievance.

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