It’s been a year since countless stories of workplace sexual harassment started making headlines, and new data suggests the number of harassment complaints and lawsuits won’t be declining any time soon.
To mark the anniversary of #MeToo, the EEOC released its preliminary findings to examine the effect of the movement. And while many HR experts predicted sexual harassment claims would rise, the Commission’s numbers now back this up.
EEOC suits up 50%
Overall, the EEOC’s data shows a massive increase in sexual harassment claims, as well as pro-employee rulings. Here’s a breakdown of the numbers:
- In the past year, sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC increased by 12%. This is the first time this number has gone up in five years.
- The number of lawsuits the EEOC filed increased by 50%.
- Successful, EEOC-run mediation proceedings went up 43%.
- As far as monetary awards go, The Commission recovered roughly $70 million for harassment victims in the last year, an amount that increased by 22%.
- Visits to the sexual harassment page of the EEOC’s website went up more than 100%.
Waiting on new guidance
It’s clear from the EEOC’s data that the issue of sexual harassment isn’t going away. To encourage employers to keep improving anti-harassment efforts, the Commission is working on new guidance on the topic, which hasn’t been updated in 20 years.
But while we’re waiting on that guidance, employment law attorneys Jennifer Sandberg and Joseph Shelton of the firm Fisher Phillips suggest employers take the following preemptive steps in the meantime:
- Update policies. Many courts have demonstrated recently they want to see employers shouldering more of the responsibility in addressing sexual harassment. This includes having a zero-tolerance policy that: defines sexual harassment, provides examples, contains reporting methods and guarantees no retaliation.
- Distribute policies. Your sexual harassment policy is only helpful if employees know what it says. Many employers distribute the policy to new hires and have them sign it, which is a good start, but not enough. That policy will be quickly forgotten by new employees who are overwhelmed with information. A good way to communicate the policy is by leading regular meetings and having upper management send out reminder emails every now and then.
- Train your managers. One misstep by a manager could get the company into a lot of trouble, so it’s important to have regular training sessions on how to respond to allegations. Some common mistakes are a supervisor brushing off an employee’s inappropriate behavior as a personality quirk, or placing the blame on the victim for going along with the harassment for so long.
- Investigate allegations immediately. Any reports of sexual harassment should be made a top priority. Delaying an investigation will send the message that the allegations aren’t important, which won’t help you in court. It’s crucial to start interviewing all involved parties right away, document the entire investigation and separate the accuser and the accused.
- Enforce policies consistently. After discovering harassment allegations are true, it’s essential for employers to follow through. If the policy calls for termination — no matter who the accused is — you need to terminate. A court will not take kindly to employers giving certain high-ranking employees special treatment.