It’s Time to Put Employees (Not Managers) at the Center of Your Harassment Prevention Strategy

Preston Clark

Preston Clark

In partnership with Impactly, ThinkHR recently conducted a survey of its customers to measure the extent to which U.S. employers are adopting EEOC best practices to eliminate harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

The survey was conducted in May of 2019 and was completed by more than 1,200 HR and compliance professionals across the country.


The survey questions were based on the checklist from the EEOC’s Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The two primary goals of the survey were to:

  • Assess to what extent employers across industries are implementing harassment prevention best practices; and
  • Encourage the adoption of best practices through a published study of the results.

A team of prevention, HR, employment law, and compliance experts came together to analyze the data and coauthor the study.


The most significant finding from the 2019 Harassment Prevention Study was the dramatically low adoption of employee-focused strategies in the prevention of harassment and discrimination. Notably, there were three areas in particular where employee (non-supervisor) prevention best practices are being overlooked:

  • Only 18 percent of employers incorporate bystander intervention training to empower employees to intervene when witnessing potentially harassing or discriminatory behavior;
  • Only 13 percent of employers implement climate surveys to measure the extent to which harassment is a problem within their organization; and
  • Only 3 percent of employers report having adopted anonymous, third-party reporting tools to encourage the reporting of potentially harassing or discriminatory behavior, witnessed or experienced.

These low adoption rates, while disappointing, were not entirely unexpected. Compliance mandates, more than EEOC best practices, have shaped the national approach to harassment prevention for almost two decades.

Previous anti-harassment legislation in California, Connecticut, and Maine was focused on educating supervisors and managers on how to address and report harassment and discrimination in the workplace, rather than on a comprehensive employee-focused strategy, as recommended by the EEOC. So the resulting survey data indicating low adoption of bystander intervention training and climate surveys, in particular, is consistent with the historical focus on managers and supervisors as the primary channel to address harassment and discrimination.

We expect this trend to change over the next couple of years, as new and pending legislation is taking an employee-first approach to harassment prevention. For example, under the new Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, employers are required to train all employees annually — and the training must include bystander intervention. Meanwhile, in Vermont, annual climate surveys are now used as an enforcement method by the state Attorney General.


  1. Incorporate bystander intervention scenarios into your annual harassment prevention training so your employees can better understand how to intervene if they witness harassing or discriminatory behavior. This includes in-the-moment intervention techniques as well as how to submit an incident report on behalf of another employee.
  2. Conduct a workplace climate survey. Very few employers measure what is working and what needs to be improved with their existing harassment prevention strategy. A workplace climate survey can uncover employer risks and opportunities and expose where existing prevention efforts such as training, policies, and reporting structures, can be improved. A climate survey is typically anonymous and short in length to maximize employee participation. Here are sample workplace climate survey questions and best practices.
  3. Encourage reporting. According to the EEOC, roughly 75 percent of individuals who experience harassment in the workplace never report it because they fear disbelief, inaction, blame, or social or professional retaliation. Anonymous third-party reporting tools can empower employees to report issues internally before they seek assistance from the outside.

Get it All

For the complete analysis of the survey results, download your free copy of the 2019 Harassment Prevention Study. If you did not participate in the survey and would like to compare your policies and practices against the national average, you can take the survey and we’ll generate a free custom benchmark report.

Author: Preston Clark