Did #MeToo Result in More Reports of Workplace Harassment?

May 15, 2019
| The Extensis Team
Did #MeToo Result in More Reports of Workplace Harassment

Late 2017 was a substantial moment in time for employers and employees across the United States as workplace harassment became a major topic due to several large scandals.

The increased awareness continued into 2018 with the rise of the #MeToo movement and greater scrutiny on organizations to do more to not only prevent workplace harassment, but also conduct thorough investigations and take appropriate actions.

But just how much did the media attention and #MeToo impact workplace harassment? A new study from NAVEX Global explored this and other compliance issues. Here are some of the findings.

Have Workplace Harassment Claims Increased?

To create their study, NAVEX Global looked at 1,032,953 reports from over 2,700 customers.

The results showed that between 2016 and 2018, reports of workplace harassment increased by 18%. When looking specifically at 2017 (the beginning of the #MeToo movement) and 2018, reports increased by 8.5%.

The data from the report shows that employees are becoming more inclined to speak up and report instances of workplace harassment than in years past.

But that’s not all the data revealed. Reports of discrimination also increased between 2017 and 2018 by 18%.

Both of these results show just how important prevention and training are for employers today. With employees more empowered than ever to report grievances, employers who aren’t properly prepared could face numerous compliance issues and penalties.

Another interesting area explored at in the report is the comparison between anonymous and named reports (inclusive of all reports, not just harassment). The data showed that 57% of reports were anonymous in 2018, compared to 56% in 2017, 58% in 2016, and 59% in 2015.

Since 2009, the percentage of anonymous reports have been on a downward trajectory, which NAVEX Global attributes to greater trust between employees and the compliance programs that exist within their company.

What Can Employers do to Prevent Workplace Harassment?

Only time will tell if workplace harassment reports will continue to increase in 2019, but employers must take preventative measure regardless in order to ensure a safe working environment for all employees.

Around the time that the #MeToo movement began, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released 5 principles that are critical to addressing and preventing harassment in the workplace:
  • Committed and engaged leadership
  • Consistent and demonstrated accountability
  • Strong and comprehensive harassment policies
  • Trusted and accessible grievance process
  • Regular training that is tailored to the organization

In addition to the recommendations from the EEOC, there are other best practices employers big and small can explore to help prevent workplace harassment.

One thing all employers need to do is make training a priority for all employees, no matter their position. In fact, New York and New York City enacted legislation in 2018 that includes mandatory training employers need to conduct with their employees.

It’s also critical for business leaders to draft clear harassment policies for the organization. These policies must:
  • Include a zero-tolerance policy for workplace harassment
  • How to report a harassment grievance
  • Language which states that those who file a harassment claim won’t be retaliated against
  • Highlight behaviors or actions that could be considered harassment
  • Outline the grievance process and what potential penalties could entail
  • Comply with all applicable federal, state, and local harassment legislation

Employers and business leaders who aren’t sure how to create a workplace harassment prevention plan should speak with HR and compliance professionals who can help assess and create all necessary documents and procedures.

Will the Number of Workplace Harassment Reports Increase in 2019, Too?

The NAVEX Global report doesn’t provide any estimates on if they expect workplace harassment claims to increase further in 2019. However, they do state that they will be tracking this data closely throughout the year.

Regardless, all employers must continue to provide training and improve workplace harassment policies to prevent grievances from occurring. Doing so helps create a safe and healthy working environment for employees, which employers must offer to their workforce.

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