EEOC Issues Harassment Enforcement Guidelines Triggering Lawsuits

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new “Enforcement Guidance on Harassment in the Workplace” (Enforcement Guidance) to provide clarity on what constitutes workplace harassment. The Enforcement Guidance was issued on April 29, 2024, and was effective immediately upon its issuance. 

The EEOC oversees and investigates claims of workplace harassment and discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, as well as the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. The interpretation of who is protected and what conduct is prohibited under Title VII is determined by the EEOC, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Courts. 

The new Enforcement Guidance covers existing standards that are unchanged and then expanded them to include additional types of conduct that are considered workplace harassment. Specifically, the EEOC has expanded Title VII harassment protections to include those stemming from gender identity and harassment in remote/virtual work environments through technology. 

The key changes to the Enforcement Guidelines are as follows: 

  • Sex-based harassment standards now protect homosexual, transgender, and nonbinary people. The change stems from the 2020 United States Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the Court stated that Title VII bans discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. In Bostock, the Supreme Court found Title VII protection in the workplace barring termination of employment based on sexual identity or sexual preference. 

The Enforcement Guidelines provide examples related to bathroom use and the use of preferred pronouns for transgender and nonbinary people. 

  • Discrimination includes the “repeated and intentional use of a name or pronoun that is inconsistent with the individual’s known gender identity”. This type of misgendering is now subject to Title VII enforcement actions. 
  • Discrimination also includes the “denial of access to a bathroom or other sex-segregated facility that is consistent with the individual’s gender identity”. The effect is that people may choose to use a gendered bathroom that aligns with the gender with which they identify. 
  • Pregnancy and childbirth protections have been extended to related conditions such as lactation, contraception, and abortion. 
  • While race has been protected by Title VII since 1964, that has been extended to a person’s “color”, which includes pigmentation, complexion, and general skin tone. 
  • Remote workers can be subject to a hostile work environment through the use of technology, such as video calls that reveal offensive imagery visible during calls. 
  • Social Media accounts may contribute to charges of a hostile work environment. For instance, a company that posts offensive statements or material on its social media can contribute to a hostile work environment, although standing alone, such posts may not enough to trigger a Title VII violation if not specifically targeted to a particular employee. If posted by a coworker, if neither the employer nor a specific employee is targeted, the post will carry less weight toward a Title VII violation. This aspect of the Enforcement Guidance attempts to strike a balance between free speech and anti-harassment concerns. 
  • A hostile work environment may be created by a single incident of harassment. This could occur if there is a display of symbols of violence or hatred, the use of denigrating animal imagery, or the use of racial epithets are involved. 
  • Members of the same protected class can be found to be harassers and cause violations of Title VII. For instance, one member of the protected class verbally attacks another person of the same protected class about a protected activity. 
  • Sincerely held religious beliefs continued to be protected, however, employers are not required to accommodate religious expression that creates, or reasonably threatens to create, a hostile work environment. 

Eighteen states filed a joint lawsuit in Tennessee federal court based on a claim that the EEOC has overstepped its authority and encroached on state and local authorities’ rights to manage highly controversial issues, specifically those having to do with sexual identity and sexual orientation. The lawsuit claims that the EEOC has expanded the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision beyond its specific holding about the right to be employed. The lawsuit plaintiffs are asking the court to issue an injunction barring implementation of the Enforcement Guidelines on the gender identity issues, such as the bathroom and pronoun examples provided. 

The Alliance will monitor the lawsuits and keep members informed of any important developments. 

In this article Adriane Harrison, VP of Human Relations Consulting, PRINTING United Alliance, addresses the new EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Harassment in the Workplace. More information about labor and employment laws and regulations can be found at the Center for Human Resources Support or reach out to Adriane directly if you have additional questions specific to how these issues may affect your business at:     
To become a member of the Alliance and learn more about how our subject matter experts can assist your company with services and resources such as those mentioned in this article, please contact the Alliance membership team: 888-385-3588 / 

Adriane Harrison Vice President, Human Relations Consulting PRINTING United Alliance

Adriane Harrison is the Vice President of Human Relations Consulting at PRINTING United Alliance. With a background in law, business, and non-profit sectors, Adriane brings a wealth of knowledge to address issues across all aspects of human resources. Adriane is a relatable speaker that uses interactive techniques to provide understandable strategies for HR success. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Journalism), and DePaul University College of Law.