#MeToo

Is it time up for discrimination in the workplace?

The #MeToo movement officially began in October 2017 as a social media hashtag in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations aimed at high profile Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.

It was designed to expose the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, not just in the film industry, but in a myriad of mainstream industries and organisations.

The hashtag initially served as a public forum where people could share their experiences of sexual harassment but has gathered momentum to a point where it is now beginning to influence organisational culture and affect employment legislation and human resource policy.

A mark of the success of the movement has been its ability to generate legislative responses across the world in a very short space of time. In the US, a new Federal bipartisan bill called The Empower Act has made significant progress through the Senate. It is designed to stop employers from enforcing confidentiality agreements when settling harassment claims with employees.

Related tax legislation has already been adopted in the US, as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which went into effect January 1, 2018. As a result of the law, companies that use non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment or abuse cases are prohibited from deducting the settlement and associated cost, including attorneys’ fees, for tax purposes. In Europe, Sweden has made changes to its penal code to require explicit consent before sex, while in the UK a 2018 report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) proposes a number of legislative reforms designed to make employers responsible for addressing harassment in the workplace.

The #MeToo movement has also been absorbed into workplace culture, transitioning from a forum for shared experiences into a mantra that informs the behaviour of co-workers, supervisors and senior management. This has manifested itself in an additional, yet related movement known as “#TimesUp.” While both the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have focused primarily on the issue of sexual harassment, the #TimesUp movement focuses more broadly on inequality within the workplace and societal institutions, with an emphasis on pay equity. #TimesUp attempts to expand the fight against workplace inequality that has flourished for so long on an institutional level, beyond the realm of the individual stories associated with the #MeToo movement.

As a consequence of #MeToo and #TimesUp, employers may be more reluctant to defend allegations of sexual harassment and more likely to reach fair and transparent settlements. Co-workers, particularly men, are also revising their estimation of acceptable behaviour, as a result of #MeToo. Our California member Rebecca Torrey points out the increase in ‘hugger cases’ and social media harassment claims she is dealing with this year, as previously acceptable behaviour/communication is now under the harassment spotlight.

Employers are also scrambling to update their HR policies to incorporate more detailed and inclusive harassment procedures. Many have implemented or updated standalone harassment policies and are offering harassment training to all employees, not just supervisors. Much of this training involves understanding exactly what behaviour constitutes sexual harassment and encouraging active monitoring and reporting by all workers.

The following report includes insight into all these issues from IR Global’s employment experts and provides a perspective on the influence of #MeToo on a number of jurisdictions around the world, including the USA, UK, France, Sweden and Mexico.