How #METOO is Impacting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

In October of 2017, the #MeToo movement went viral on social media as victims of sexual harassment and assault shared their stories of experiences of abuse.

Workplace Complaints Increased After #METOO

While the movement gained the attention of the news media and all over social media platforms, it also impacted the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), charged with investigating workplace discrimination and sexual harassment complaints, reported a 12 percent increase in complaints filed between October 2017 and September 2018.

Victoria Lipnic, acting chair of the EEOC at that time, explained that the number of sexual harassment claims increased and the number of overall workplace complaints decreased.

These numbers paint a significant picture. It’s not that workplace sexual assaults increased, but rather that the victims became more empowered to speak up and report them. The #MeToo movement helped victims overcome the fear of reprisal when making these harassment and assault claims against coworkers, even if that person they were reporting was a direct supervisor or held some type of leadership position.

Federal agencies aren’t immune to such complaints. Similar to any workplace, federal employees can file complaints against coworkers for inappropriate or obscene behaviors. However, the visibility of these cases increased with the #MeToo movement increased. Sadly, far too often in the past, these claims weren’t handled appropriately.

Victims of sexual harassment and assault frequently felt they couldn’t report such cases out of fear of retaliation, shame, or embarrassment. The #MeToo movement empowered many victims to bring their stories into the light, something federal agencies need to be sure they are adequately prepared to handle.

Like other large organizations, federal agencies must carefully and responsibly investigate each claim, giving all parties involved the care and respect they deserve. To do so, the agencies must have the proper systems in place to appropriately handle employee complaints.

The #METOO Impact

Interestingly, the Pew Research Center found that Americans see little benefit for women’s workplace opportunities due to the increased focus on sexual harassment and assault. Only 28 percent report that it will lead to increased opportunities for women in the workplace in the long run, while 20 percent believe it will lead to fewer opportunities, and 51 percent don’t think it will make much of a difference.

At the same time, many positive changes have come from the #METOO movement, such as:

  • States are also introducing protections for more workers
  • States are banning nondisclosure agreements that cover sexual harassment
  • Congress has changed some of its processes for staffers who report sexual harassment
  • Some survivors are getting financial restitution
  • Americans have changed how they think about power—survivors learned they were not alone and had strength and power in numbers
  • Overall, American employees feel safer and more empowered to report incidents of sexual harassment and abuse

Are You the Victim of Workplace Harassment or Assault?

The #MeToo movement has given victims of all ages across all types of workplaces the courage to come forward with their stories. All employees need to know that their grievances will be heard and respected. By ensuring that these cases get the respect they deserve, agencies provide that those filing the cases get their story heard. Suppose you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment or assault. In that case, it’s in your best interest to contact an experienced attorney who can help you take the next best steps.

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