Four Years After the #MeToo Movement, What has Changed? The Answer Might Surprise You.
May 11, 2021
By: Frances M. Haas, Mary E. Funk
In 2017, when the #MeToo movement hit the mainstream, human resources professionals, attorneys, and workplace experts assumed the heightened interest in addressing workplace misconduct would lead to an avalanche of sex harassment claims and litigation. However, the data recently reported in the EEOC’s charge statistics through fiscal year 2020 suggests there was only a modest, temporary increase in the number of sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC.
Between 2017 and 2018, charges increased by roughly ten percent. While statistically significant, that increase does not align with expectations of a barrage of sexual harassment charges. Perhaps more surprising is that the following years, 2019 and 2020, reflect a downward trend in sexual harassment charges (a ten percent reduction in 2019 and a nine percent reduction in 2020). While some decrease in harassment charges for 2020 makes sense given the effects of remote work and layoffs from the pandemic, the statistics also suggest room for cautious optimism—perhaps we will continue to see fewer charges of sex harassment over time.
The reduction in charges of sex harassment is welcome news for everyone. But what has caused the change? It’s impossible to know precisely why sexual harassment charges are declining, but many factors are likely at play. Among them are more robust anti-harassment training, a higher comfort level among employees in lodging internal complaints prior to filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, and the fear of being “outed” as a harasser and the resulting cultural stigma.
However, another growing internal management practice is playing a role in reduced sex harassment litigation: the increasing reliance on the powerful attorney-investigation tool. Attorney-led internal investigations are an effective way to root out and address misbehavior in the workplace, like sexual harassment, before it blossoms into litigation. For various reasons, sexual harassment allegations can be challenging to handle internally. Hiring an independent outside attorney to thoroughly investigate alleged misconduct and make factual findings about what occurred allows an entity to confidently rely on an expert to determine what happened, and then use those findings to decide how to move forward.
Stay tuned for additional installments in our series of articles on the importance of workplace investigations. In the meantime, keep up the hard work training employees, enforcing your anti-harassment policies, and effectively managing internal harassment complaints.