COMMENTARY: What effect has #MeToo had on the workplace

Editor’s note: Lauren E.M. Russell of the Delaware law firm Young Conaway Stargatt and Taylor, LLP, contributed this overview of the Employment Law Alliance’s survey on workplace sexual harassment.

The Employment Law Alliance recently conducted a survey gauging the effect of the #MeToo Movement and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.

As part of the Employment Law Alliance, Young Conaway was one of 382 firms from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico who all helped to contribute information regarding these topics.

Their survey yielded the following results:

Forms, contributors

Words Hurt: Most common type of sexual misconduct in the workplace.

Using a scale of one to 10 (high), 43 percent of respondents rated “Language, Jokes and Teasing” an eight or a nine, making it the most prevalent type of workplace sexual misconduct employers are facing today. It was followed by “Comments about Looks, Dress or Physical Appearance” and “Flirting and Sexual Advances.”

Email and Texts Outpace Face-to-Face Harassment: “Emails and texts” were listed by ELA members as the most-common method employees use in perpetrating sexual harassment.

Alcohol and the Workplace is a Problematic Combination: 70 percent responded that alcohol use among employees has played a part in fostering harassment.

Training, prevention

In-house HR competency to conduct investigations is a concern: When asked how competent they feel in-house human resources professionals are in conducting internal investigations involving misconduct complaints, only 14 percent said “Very Competent,” while the vast majority, 81 percent, said only “Somewhat Competent.”

Neutral Third Party Investigators Strongly Recommended: By one of the widest margins in the poll, 91 percent of respondents noted that when high-level executives are accused of harassment, outside investigators instead of in-house HR professionals should be utilized.

In-Person Beats Online Training: 96 percent of ELA attorneys throughout the country are convinced that live classroom harassment prevention training is more effective and impactful. This finding is consistent with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s latest Enforcement Guidelines which state that online training is generally ineffective at preventing workplace harassment.

The #MeToo Movement

A Real Concern that Companies aren’t taking Sexual Harassment Seriously Enough: When asked if employers are taking sexual harassment training, prevention and response “Seriously Enough,” 46 percent of ELA respondents indicated that they are not.

Harassment Claims Rarely Fabricated: Only 6.5 percent of ELA respondents said that either “More Often Than Not” (6 percent) or “Most of the Time” (0.5 percent) complaints of harassment were fabricated.

A Rush to Judgment, Pressure to Publicize When Investigating Harassment Complaints: More than 70 percent of ELA respondents indicated that clients have concerns that there is a “rush to judgment” when harassment complaints are made.

More than half (51 percent) indicated that corporate clients are feeling either “Great Pressure” (6 percent) or “Some Pressure” (45 percent) to publicize results and disciplinary actions taken following a misconduct investigation.

Bracing for the #MeToo Backlash: A majority of ELA respondents, 57 percent, expressed that they are, either “Slightly Concerned” (44 percent) or “Very Concerned” (13 percent) that the #MeToo movement will create a backlash against women being promoted or hired.

Romance and Fraternization

Office Romance Headaches: When asked how frequently their employer clients “have experienced complaints resulting from office romances,” more than 60 percent indicated that it was either somewhat or very frequent.

Non-Fraternization Policies: Only somewhat common, not widely recommended.

Only 8 percent of ELA survey respondents indicated that “more than 75 percent of their clients” have enacted non-fraternization policies. And, 64 percent of respondents answered “No” when asked if they recommend employers adopt such policies.

The “Pence Rule”; refusing to travel/dine/meet alone with opposite sex: 23 percent of ELA respondents indicated that it was “Somewhat Common” for managers to refuse to travel/dine/meet alone behind closed doors with colleagues of the opposite sex. This finding is significant given the concerns raised that women will face a backlash in the workplace.

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