The #MeToo movement has increased our awareness of harassment and sexual misconduct in private and public spheres. As such, this social movement has given voices and credibility to survivors and has promoted an examination of the consequences offenders face.
There are a number of takeaways we can examine when it comes to the influence of the #MeToo movement. We’ll examine the ones that apply most to the workplace and employment law.
It’s important to be able to delineate what is and isn’t unlawful harassment.
In the workplace, unlawful harassment is based on race, color, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful under the following conditions:
- When enduring offensive conduct becomes a continued condition of employment
- When the conduct is severe enough to create an environment that could be considered intimidating, hostile, or abusive
Isolated incidents, unless extreme, annoyances, and petty slights are generally not deemed illegal. Offensive conduct could include offensive jokes, slurs, name-calling, physical assault or threats, intimidation, mockery, insults, and offensive objects or pictures.
In the workplace, harassment can happen in a number of different circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:
- The harasser may be a supervisor, supervisor in a different area, agent, co-worker, or non-employee
- The victim can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct
- Unlawful harassment can occur without economic injury to the victim
Employers and employees both need to be aware of what is and isn’t unlawful harassment, so the proper steps can be taken when someone has taken inappropriate actions.
There are two different types of unlawful harassment.
In order to determine how a harasser has acted wrongfully, there are two different types of harassment:
Quid Pro Quo
This occurs when the unlawful conduct becomes a condition of employment. In the case of sexual harassment, it means there has been a demand for sexual favors in return for a work-related benefit. This generally happens between a supervisor and subordinate. A supervisor could promise his subordinate any of the following:
- Sought-after assignments or shifts
- Positive reviews or recommendations
- Continued employment (i.e. threatening termination)
Any single quid pro quo action is illegal, and the victim can take legal action. Depending on the circumstances, the employer could be found liable for the actions of the harassing supervisor.
Hostile Work Environment
A work environment can be deemed hostile if frequent, unwelcome offensive conduct is present. Examples of a hostile work environment include the following:
- Jokes of a sexual nature
- Profanity or vulgar comments
- Catcalling or whistling
- Flirting or touching
- Unwanted sexual advances or propositions
- Persistent unwanted actions
A work environment like this can affect the targeted victim, as well as any bystanders.
Accountability is key.
The #MeToo movement has encouraged employers to view sexual harassment and violence as both a cultural and social problem. More business leaders are beginning to acknowledge the various obstacles certain groups, like women, face. As a result, policies are being implemented and enforced more often to encourage accountability.
Individual offenders should be held accountable for their behavior; however, a focus also needs to be placed on those who have become complicit. Employers are encouraged to look at the inequities among their employees, find ways to address them, and measure the progress made to ensure positive changes are happening. There should be an overall goal to solidify institutional changes so that there aren’t any groups facing barriers related to harassment.
A systemic approach promotes change.
A shift has begun to take place that promotes the idea that sexual abuse and harassment are no longer just an individual problem. Instead, businesses are encouraged to become agents of change. When changes come from the top, it’s more likely to be effective because positive change can be enforced.
Technology and media can be used for good.
The #MeToo movement created a domino effect that proved there is strength in multiple voices. Social media has given victims the chance to inform others of what they’ve been through. Not only has this created a community of support, but it has increased the visibility of the issue. This benefits the workplace because abused employees are more comfortable with their voices and ensuring their rights are protected.
At McMath Woods P.A., we understand how sensitive sexual harassment claims can be – especially in the workplace. Our lawyers are prepared to support and represent individuals who are looking to get their lives back in order and hold guilty parties responsible for their actions. To learn more about your legal rights and options in the workplace, schedule a consultation with us today.