More employers seeking sexual harassment training at EEOC

- With the increase in headlines about sexual harassment, some employers are increasing their focus on harassment training.

Phones have been ringing off the hook at the Houston district office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which educates companies and their employees about sexual harassment issues, according to Joe Bontke, the office's outreach manager.

The EEOC has seen a significant increase in the number of employers looking to beef up their sexual harassment training, said Bontke. The federal agency is using current headlines like the allegations against Harvey Weinstein in its "Workplace Civility Training". 

Employers are using the training tools as a reminder to their employees about what is and isn't appropriate in the workplace.

"We recently got emails reminding us about the policies," said Zain Zaidi, who works in Houston.

"They make sure we know about sexual harassment and what we can and can't do," said Ken Henderson, a Houston truck driver. "They make sure that we know that that's not tolerated."

Bontke says employees and employers should look at what is appropriate in the workplace through the lens of a "reasonable person".

"How do you define a reasonable person?" questioned Bontke. "Anybody who would look towards their daughter, their mother, their grandmother, their granddaughter--being in the room, and realizing I allowed this to happen--would I be embarrassed?"

So can a compliment ever be considered harassment? Where is the line drawn?

"Start off with: is there an element of unwelcomeness?" said Bontke. "Can I say, 'What a very nice dress you have on today?' Yeah, a reasonable person would say that's a compliment. But if every day I was doing it, and every day I was complimenting your body type, the severity of that and pervasiveness of it may be, in fact, unwelcome."

Bontke says if the unwelcome behavior persists and is reported to HR, the person typically goes through additional harassment training. If the problem persists still, then the person could face charges, said Bontke.

The majority of sexual harassment victims are women, according to EEOC data, which shows 83 percent of victims were women and 17 percent were men in 2016.

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