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EEOC Updates Workplace Harassment Guidelines

Documents about workplace harassment in an office.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance on workplace harassment for the first time in 25 years following a Supreme Court ruling that anti-bias laws protect LGBTQ workers.

The guidance notes that refusing to use transgender workers’ preferred pronouns and denying them access to bathrooms for their gender identity is a form of unlawful harassment.

Additionally, the EEOC says that discrimination against employees for decisions related to abortion or contraception is also considered sex discrimination.

Guidance protects LGBTQ and pregnant workers, expands employee rights

It’s not legally binding, but the guidance outlines how the EEOC will enforce anti-bias laws in the future. The guidance can also be referenced in legal proceedings.

“Harassment, both in-person and online, remains a serious issue in America’s workplaces. The EEOC’s updated guidance on harassment is a comprehensive resource that brings together best practices for preventing and remedying harassment and clarifies recent developments in the law,” EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a statement. “The guidance incorporates public input from stakeholders across the country, is aligned with our Strategic Enforcement Plan, and will help ensure that individuals understand their workplace rights and responsibilities.”

How will the EEOC’s new harassment guidelines affect workers?

The driving force behind these new guidelines was largely shaped by the landmark Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County in 2020. In this ruling, SCOTUS affirmed that harassment of LGBTQ employees constitutes a violation of Title VII civil rights, effectively recognizing sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination as forms of sex discrimination. Furthermore, the EEOC’s guidelines extend the scope of sexual harassment to include issues related to pregnancy.

Here are key highlights from the new federal workplace harassment guidelines:

  • Expanded protection for LGBTQ+ workers. Concrete examples of workplace LGBTQ harassment now explicitly include intentionally misgendering someone, not using an individual’s preferred pronouns, denial of access to gender-appropriate facilities, and harassment based on non-binary or non-conforming gender presentation.
  • Pregnancy-related harassment. The EEOC more clearly states that harassment and discrimination related to pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, contraceptive choices, reproductive medical conditions, and abortion decisions are civil rights violations.
  • Clarifies the scope of religious expression. While employers must accommodate their employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs, they must also protect their employees from religiously motivated harassment. Employers are not required to accommodate religious expressions that contribute to a hostile work environment and should take action to correct such situations.
  • Recognizes virtual harassment. As we noted, EEOC workplace harassment guidelines had not been comprehensively updated in about 25 years, so the need to recognize technology’s role in workplace harassment was long overdue. The new guidelines note that, especially with the surge in work-from-home and virtual meetings, harassment via virtual communication like email, video conferencing, instant messaging, etc., exists and can rise to the level of a civil rights violation.

Is workplace harassment violating your rights?

The new guidelines expand protection for many employees and further clarify what it means to work in a safe environment free from discrimination. However, not all instances of harassment rise to the level of a civil rights violation. If you are the victim of workplace harassment, contact an experienced employment law attorney for a free case evaluation.

Having a knowledgeable lawyer familiar with state and federal laws regarding workplace harassment can significantly impact your case. At Nilges Draher LLC in Ohio, our experienced worker rights attorneys are well-versed in these laws and can ensure you understand your legal options. We advocate for you with your employer, the EEOC, and other relevant agencies. Contact us for a free case evaluation. We serve clients in Ohio and nationwide.

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