#MeToo Could Affect Your Business, Too, Unless You’re Careful

As Harvey Weinstein rape trial moves forward, has your Chicago area business kept up with the increased awareness of sexual harassment and moved forward with adequate policy and cultural safeguards to ensure that you’re not the next target of the #MeToo movement?

George Bellas Business Attorney

#MeToo Movement is changing business environment protections.  

A survey conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, in conjunction with the software company SAP, found that one-third of U.S. workers and 38% of supervisors say they have changed their office behavior as a result of #MeToo.

The movement has had other positive impacts: 40% of working Americans say their workplace has new training on harassment on the job, 53% expect women will experience more positive workplace conditions as a result of cases like Weinstein’s, and 60% of those who have faced sexual misconduct in the workplace see #MeToo positively.

But there’s resistance, as well: 30% of men view the movement in a negative light, and 60% of male supervisors are leery of one-on-one meetings with female employees.

A separate survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, administered separately in 2016 and 2018, found that the incidence of women who reported being sexually coerced—meaning bribed or pressured—fell from 25% to 16%. Reports of women receiving unwanted sexual attention—staring, leering, ogling or unwanted touching—fell from 66% to 25%.

On the flip side, however, reports of gender harassment—negative treatment that’s not necessarily sexual—rose from 76% of women to 92%. Harvard Business Review interpreted this as a “backlash effect” that occurred simultaneously as men became more careful about more blatant sexist displays.

Harvard Business Review says human resources departments need to continue shining a spotlight on these issues, offering a range of services such as training on bystander intervention, promulgating zero-tolerance policies, and responding expeditiously when a complaint is raised.

Businesses also need to keep a focus on more generalized gender harassment, such as bullying and sexist comments, which can be equally deleterious to a woman’s career and/or self-esteem, HBR says. Enlisting male allies as part of the conversation—while ensuring they do not feel personally accused simply on account of their gender—is a key piece of all this.

Company culture and organizational climate are key to setting the right tone. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) heard testimony from a professor at the University of Michigan that sexual harassment is more likely in organizations with a highly male workforce, stereotypically masculine job duties, and greater tolerance of sexist attitudes and comments.

In one such case, a female truck driver filed suit in January 2019 against the construction company for which she worked, alleging discrimination that ranged from sexist comments, to lower pay for similar work, to being bumped aside for shifts and assigned to more poorly maintained trucks. To top it off, the complaint alleges that the owner of the company purposely urinated in front of her when she was in her truck.

The federal complaint, Rush v. Neiswonger Construction Inc., No. 2:05-mc-02025, filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania, is based on both state law and the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit gender-based discrimination, including sexual harassment. That, in turn, can include sexual comments or conduct severe enough that a reasonable person would find them abusive, offensive, hostile, or intimidating.

Do the policies of your business lead to a culture that tolerates such behavior, or have you sufficiently safeguarded against it?  There’s no time like the present to avoid becoming the next target of #MeToo.