Authors: Christopher Kelleher and Andrew Scroggins

Seyfarth Synopsis: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued guidance tailored to the construction industry regarding compliance with anti-harassment laws. This lines up with our prediction in early 2024 that the EEOC had put the construction industry squarely in its sights. The guidance is important for construction-industry leaders and employers to understand to prevent and remedy workplace harassment, and to avoid potential harassment liability.

On June 18, 2024, the EEOC issued its Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment in the Construction Industry. This guidance provides key recommendations that construction-industry leaders and employers should consider implementing to prevent and address harassment in the workplace, and avoid being the target of the EEOC’s enforcement efforts. The guidance is intended to supplement the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP”) for fiscal years 2024-2028, which provides direction on the EEOC’s current objectives, principles, and enforcement efforts – among them, increasing diversity in the construction industry and remedying harassment. (We’ve written previously about the proposed and final SEP.)

The guidance emphasizes several core principles to prevent and address harassment in the construction industry, including a committed and engaged leadership, consistent and demonstrated accountability, strong and comprehensive anti-harassment policies, trusted and accessible complaint procedures, and regular, interactive training tailored to the appropriate audience. In support of these principles, the guidance makes several overarching recommendations to help construction-industry employers remain in compliance with federal laws, and off the EEOC’s enforcement radar.

1. Leadership and Accountability

The EEOC is looking for leaders who are vocal about non-harassment. To that end, the Agency recommends that worksite leaders—project owners, general contractors, crew leaders, and union stewards—clearly, frequently, and unequivocally message and demonstrate that harassment is prohibited. Since there are often multiple entities and types of workers on a jobsite, the EEOC advises that project leaders and general contractors focus on preventing harassment against all workers on the site, regardless of whether or not those workers are covered by anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC also recommends that general contractors assist smaller subcontractors and staffing agencies with their legal obligations under federal anti-discrimination laws by referring them to the EEOC’s Small Business Resource Center.  

The EEOC also recommends that project owners provide or coordinate anti-harassment training, monitor the workforce for anti-harassment compliance, require that contract bids include a plan to prevent and address workplace harassment, and seek feedback from workers about anti-harassment efforts and whether harassment may be occurring.

2. Comprehensive and Clear Harassment Policies

The EEOC also expects construction industry employers to maintain and provide to employees a clear and comprehensive anti-harassment policy. (This expectation is true no matter the industry of the employer.) The policy should provide a description of who is covered under the policy, what conduct is prohibited, and complaint and reporting procedures. The policy should also indicate the employer’s commitment to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported harassment, and to keep any reports of workplace harassment confidential. Anti-harassment policies should be regularly updated, understandable to all employees, and posted in easy-to-find places, such as in the breakroom, or near the timeclock.

3. Effective and Accessible Harassment Complaint System

The EEOC reiterated the importance of an effective harassment complaint system, with points specific to the construction industry. in particular, in light of the often  complex overlap of multiple employers and entities engaged in construction projects, the EEOC recommends that onsite employers and leaders work together to provide a “no wrong door” environment to workers. The harassment complaint system should be easy to understand, including in languages commonly used by workers, and should include both formal and informal methods of reporting harassment, among other measures.

4. Effective Harassment Training

Finally, the EEOC emphasized the importance of regular, interactive, and comprehensive training of all workers on a construction site. According to the EEOC, harassment prevention training should be clear, easy to understand, and offered in languages commonly used by onsite workers.  It should also be tailored to the specific workforce and work environment. The EEOC recommends interactive trainings, but given the dynamic nature of construction workforces, alternative options include providing training through an interactive module accessible via mobile phone, or watching a series of short video clips, followed by a guided discussion about the clips.

Anti-harassment training should include a description of prohibited harassment, with examples specific to the construction industry, and workers should be provided with the complaint procedure, and encouraged to report any harassment they observe.

Implications for Employers

Employers in the construction industry must remain on high alert when it comes to the EEOC. The EEOC announced in the SEP that it intended to focus its enforcement efforts on the industry, and less than a year into the SEP it has backed up its words with complaints filed in federal court and guidance pointed straight at the industry.

No anti-harassment program can prevent all claims. However, adopting the EEOC’s recommendations for the construction industry may help to reduce that number while also bolstering an employer’s defense if a charge is filed. Because construction worksites often include groups of workers employed by multiple entities, the EEOC stresses the importance of a committed leadership onsite to prevent, address, and remedy harassment. Construction-industry employers should be aware of the EEOC’s guidance, and should take steps to come into compliance with the key recommendations, including by establishing clear and widely disseminated anti-harassment policies, developing channels for worker complaints, promptly investigating those complaints, and taking steps to prevent future harassment. If you have questions about your anti-harassment practices, would like guidance on how to communicate anti-harassment messages to your workers, or are in need of support to respond to any threatened or pending harassment litigation, contact your Seyfarth attorney or the authors of this post.