The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced how the #MeToo movement has impacted its enforcement efforts, which has implications across the country and particularly in corporate America.
Not surprisingly, the heightened awareness about sexual harassment-including what constitutes harassment and the harm it inflicts-generated by the #MeToo campaign has resulted in the EEOC filing “a 50% increase in suits challenging sexual harassment over FY 2017.” More broadly, the total number of EEOC Charges of Discrimination alleging sexual harassment increased by about 12% from last year, and the EEOC found reasonable cause to believe discrimination had occurred in nearly 20% more charges in 2018 than in 2017.
The EEOC also has a relatively new online system for filing and tracking the status of Charges of Discrimination, which may be driving some of the increase in charges filed.
Employees who filed these sexual harassment complaints came from a range of jobs, including administrative assistants, customer service staff, nurses, and welders who worked anywhere from large companies to factories and country clubs. In all, the EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for victims of sexual harassment, which is up from $47.5 million in 2017 .
What does this all mean then? At a minimum, it is essential for companies of all sizes to have in place concrete, effective policies to prevent and address employment discrimination, including sexual harassment. And it’s not just policies and training that must be reevaluated to make sure they are as effective as possible. That’s a basic first step but just as, if not more, important is to have senior leaders in the company actually lead on this issue. Tone at the top matters. For that reason, more and more companies are tying executives’ compensation to anti-discrimination efforts.
Along these lines, the EEOC also:
- developed “What to do if you believe you have been harassed at work” to explain the steps to take if individuals felt they were being harassed at work.
- issued “Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment” to provide strategies to employers to reduce workplace harassment.
Companies are looking to reduce and address sexual harassment not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it drives away talented employees and impacts the bottom line.