March 19, 2018

The impact of #MeToo on preventing workplace harassment was one of the key topics driving discussions at the Society For Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) annual Employment Law & Legislative Conference, in Washington DC, March 12-14.

More than 650 HR professionals attended the sold out event, the largest #SHRMLeg to date.  Sessions examined timely workplace and employment policies and issues, including best practices for preventing workplace harassment and violence, marijuana laws and the opioid crisis, pay equity, employment-based immigration, and recent National Labor Relations Board decisions.

The packed general sessions featured high-profile names from politics, the media and the legal community. On Day 1, Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary and Republican National Committee strategist, exchanged views with Donna Brazile, political strategist and former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee. While they represent different political parties, Spicer and Brazile agreed on the importance of civil discourse and the need for 21st century policies to address sexual misconduct in the workplace.

At the general session on Day 2, Victoria Lipnic, acting chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), shared insights about workplace sexual harassment with Jonathan Segal, a member of the EEOC’s task force on workplace harassment, and a partner at Duane Morris law firm.

Key to addressing this pervasive problem is taking steps before inappropriate behavior becomes illegal harassment. “Waiting around until something rises to legally actionable is going to be a problem for your organization,” Lipnic said.

Lipnic also noted that most people who experience harassment in the workplace don’t report it. This confirms the results of a recent SHRM survey of HR professionals that found 76% of nonmanagerial employees who experienced sexual harassment within the last year did not report it because they feared retaliation or believed nothing would change.  

Survey findings also reported that while 94% of employers have a policy in place to prevent sexual harassment, only 22% of employees are aware of their organization’s policy.

Lipnic and Segal emphasized that for any real change to happen, leaders need to actively participate in anti-harassment training and be held accountable.  Executives who don’t take sexual harassment training seriously send the wrong message to employees at every level of an organization.

Anti-harassment training can also help drive culture change by:

  • Providing bystander intervention training to enable employees to proactively step in and stop perpetrators before their inappropriate behavior becomes illegal harassment; and
  • Encouraging employees to maintain respect and civility in the workplace.

Challenging HR to “elevate our profession”
In his opening remarks, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM’s new President and CEO, challenged members to think beyond practices and procedures and speak out on workplace issues, policies and laws. Three ways HR professionals can “elevate our profession” is by becoming:  

  • The voice of “all matters work.” The goal is for legislators to come to SHRM to help shape policy of issues affecting organizations and their employees.
  • The voice of courage. Noting that SHRM has already been out front on #MeToo, Taylor said the organization will also tackle immigration, pay equity, health care, tax reform, and “everything else we need to protect people – their dignity and their paychecks.”
  • The voice of nonpartisanship. “We may agree with one side or the other on different issues, or we may forge a third way, bringing partisans along with us.”

Traliant Insight
#MeToo and workplace sexual harassment was a prominent topic at the 2018 SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference, in Washington, DC. As sexual harassment policies and legislation evolve, organizations have an opportunity to step up their efforts with new tools, new approaches to training, and a greater sense of urgency about preventing sexual harassment – and all forms of workplace harassment and discrimination.