In the months following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, more than 100 public figures were accused of inappropriate behavior. 

Titans of industry, DC powerhouses, comedians, actors—it impacted every aspect of the public spectrum. A simple Google search produces composites of the accused. This is not a one-off or a rare occurrence. It’s not a new problem. And it’s not limited to the Hollywood elite or household names. It happens in your town, in your schools, and, perhaps, even in your office. The following are the top three ways the #MeToo Movement is likely to impact your office.

  1. Legal Liability: Many view this as a time of reckoning for those individuals who have perpetuated the environment of sexual harassment in the workplace. Where generations of victims have suffered through hostile workplaces, verbal and physical assaults, some are now feeling free enough to report such behavior—whether to their supervisors or to the public at large. When one of these reports names your office or a specific employee as a wrongdoer, the implications can be devastating. It is important to remember that, if the powers that be knew of the behavior by the accused, the company may be vicariously liable. Fox News and Hollywood production houses have “rainy day” funds in the millions of dollars, and those are being tapped out as hundreds of people come forward. A small business, on the other hand, can be destroyed by one settlement payment, obliterated by prolonged litigation.
  1. Productivity Problems: Workplace productivity may be impacted in several ways by this movement. First, discussion of the controversy and scandals as they developed in the public eye may have taken employees’ attention from the task at hand. Sharing stories can be cathartic and an important step in healing, but may have proven problematic if workflow was disrupted. It is a fine line to walk, though, trying to turn the tide back toward productivity. If your office is still spending large amounts of time discussing the movement and is unable to move forward, it may be a sign that there is a culture of harassment in your office which needs to be addressed. If that is the case, it is imperative that you take steps to address the larger issue.

Even non-physical sexual harassment — such as derogatory comments, unwanted sexual attention and unsolicited explicit images — can take a psychological toll, potentially exacerbating symptoms of anxiety, depression, negative body image and low self-esteem in victims.[1] Employees who have been exposed to sexual harassment or assault may begin to avoid the workplace or certain other employees, have difficulty focusing, or self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, causing a downturn in productivity. The emotional and physical damage to the victim is, of course, the primary concern. However, employers and business owners must understand the fiscal impact allowing a culture of inappropriate behavior can have on their bottom line. When the right thing to do is difficult or uncomfortable, every angle must be utilized to instigate change.

  1. Chance for Change: If your office is in trouble, take this time to evaluate the patterns and behaviors that have led you to this point. Is there accountability for actions at all levels? If a junior employee behaved the way senior management did, would that junior employee be immediately reprimanded, perhaps even fired? That’s a problem! Simply because an individual is a rainmaker or the company has been in that person’s family for generations, he or she is not entitled to continue their bad acts.

Many employers are taking this time to revamp or, in some cases, implement sexual harassment policies. Generally, a policy should be written and provided to every employee, independent contractor, or person who is regularly present at the office. The first step is putting the policy in place—the second, and more important step, is enforcing it! The EEOC and many state organizations have published suggested guidelines and tools for an effective program.[2] Supreme Court cases have developed the law on when and how employers can be vicariously liable.[3] Resources are available for your office to fix a problem or prevent one from developing. Make the #MeToo Movement have a meaningful impact on your office.

[1] Jamie Ducharme, “Any Type of Sexual Harassment Can Cause Psychological Harm, Study Says.” TIME. November 9, 2017.

[2] DOLPowerPoint on Effective Programs

Iowa Sample Policy

Nebraska Sample Policy

South Dakota Sample Policy

[3] In Vance v. Ball State University, 133 S. Ct. 2434 (2013), the Supreme Court held that an employee is a “supervisor” if the employer has empowered that employee “to take tangible employment actions against the victim, i.e., to effect a ‘significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.’” The Court stated that an employer is liable for hostile work environment harassment by employees who are not supervisors if the employer was “negligent in failing to prevent harassment from taking place.” Relevant to the assessment is “[e]vidence that an employer did not monitor the workplace, failed to respond to complaints, failed to provide a system for registering complaints, or effectively discouraged complaints from being filed.”

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