Workplace standards have changed significantly since the “Mad Men” days of the 1960s and ‘70s when sexual harassment was acceptable behavior. Over the past several decades, policies and laws have been enacted to protect employees.
The #MeToo movement, which put a spotlight on inappropriate workplace behavior in Hollywood and the media, revealed that people in positions across many industries were still getting away with misconduct and even criminal actions.
In the wake of #MeToo, several states have enacted regulations requiring sexual harassment training. The result, according to Bloomberg: 20 percent of U.S. workers must undergo sexual harassment training. Two years ago, a mere 1 percent of workers were required to undergo such training.
Sexual harassment training mandated in several states
Bloomberg reports the following states to require sexual harassment training:
- New York
Some states, including Maine, had regulations in place for the past several years. What’s more, states have passed laws that limit strategies that might discourage sexual harassment claims – for example, forced arbitration and non-disclosure agreements. However, no such requirement exists in the state of Ohio.
While these are positive changes for employees, there is still much work to be done to protect people from harassment in the workplace. As Bloomberg notes, most companies offer sexual harassment training, but a study found that these internal policies exist mainly to protect the employer from lawsuits and workplace harassment claims. The training does not necessarily result in the elimination of inappropriate behavior.
What is sexual harassment at work?
Here are examples of behavior that rises to the level of harassment:
- Someone makes sexually suggestive comments to you.
- You're pressured by someone at work to engage in unwanted sexual activity.
- You receive sexually explicit photographs or pornographic videos from someone at work.
Unfortunately, an Equal Opportunity Commission task force in 2015 concluded that “much of the training done over the past 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool.”
The #MeToo movement, however, is sparking changes that can make a meaningful difference in the workplace. Workplace training is shifting from merely teaching workers the definition of harassment and how to identify it to “harassment is wrong, we don’t tolerate it, here’s what to expect,” according to Bloomberg.
Society has made strides since the 1960s when a woman might lose her job without consequence for rebuffing a sexual advance by a supervisor. In 1986, a Supreme Court ruling made workplace sexual harassment illegal.
Despite these legal protections, 75 percent of harassment incidents go unreported, according to Bloomberg, citing U.S. government data. A survey of workers in 2019 concluded that more than one-third of employees believe their workplace turns a blind eye to sexual harassment.
When you need to hire an attorney
Your employer may have sexual harassment training and policies in place, but sometimes that doesn’t stop inappropriate behavior. The person who harassed you might deny any wrongdoing. The company might stand by the accused.