Since September, stories of sexual harassment have dominated the headlines. In what USA Today dubbed the “Weinstein Effect,” workplaces of all types and size have been seeing employees step forward to take part in the #MeToo movement by shining light on abuses of power by companies’ leadership. The increased focus on sexual harassment has created a surge in discrimination lawsuits and government investigations, with almost no industry being immune.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission responded quickly to the recent increase in charges of sexual harassment in the workplace, which is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In October, the Agency launched a new training and outreach program for employers centered around respect in the workplace. Since then, EEOC has announced a string of successes in class-based sexual harassment investigations, including:
- $340,000 settlement in January 2018 with restaurant chain Indi’s Fast Food Restaurant, Inc. concerning claims to 15 former female employees, some of whom were teenagers at the time of the alleged harassment.
- $75,000 settlement in November 2017 with Trans Ocean Seafoods, Inc. on behalf of three female employees who complained of persistent, sexually explicit comments by a male colleague.
- $100,000 settlement in October 2017 with Clougherty Packing, LLC on behalf of a class of female employees alleging sexual harassment by supervisors and other employees.
This trend appears likely to continue as EEOC ramps up its efforts to crack down on sexual harassment. In an effort to reach more victims who may be afraid to step forward or too busy to go to an EEOC office during business hours, EEOC recently opened a new online portal for employees to file charges of harassment and other discrimination online from the convenience and privacy of their homes. This will make it easier than ever for employees to get EEOC involved if they feel their employer is not doing enough to prevent abusive behavior in the workplace.
So what can employers do to prepare for their #MeToo moment? Employers need to evaluate their policies, training programs and complaint response procedures to ensure they are doing all they can to prevent or mitigate the potential for sexual harassment in the workplace.