United States: Sexual Harassment In The Age Of #Metoo: Time To Take A Fresh Look At Workplace Training

Another day, another celebrity, politician, news anchor or high-ranking member of the military disgraced by allegations of sexual harassment.  And on March 20, 2018, it was Bill Voge, Managing Partner of Latham & Watkins, one of the top global law firms and the very picture of BigLaw.  Voge resigned his post following, according to Law360, the discovery of embarrassing communications "of sexual nature with a person not connected to the firm."  The messaging has been short of detail on the communications at issue and the reason that interactions with someone unrelated to the firm led to such a precipitous fall, but the event has sent shock waves through the legal community.

Last fall, two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) commissioners speaking to an audience of labor and employment attorneys said that visits to the sexual harassment page on the organization's website increased fourfold after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke.  The message to employers: be prepared for an onslaught of new allegations and claims.  Given the patterns that preceded the recent claims now dominating the airwaves, the EEOC is likely not surprised by these developments.

In 2015, the agency received almost 28,000 charges of discrimination alleging workplace harassment – a number that has remained relatively constant over the last five years.  In response, the EEOC formed a task force which spent a year studying the issue.  They issued a report in June 2016, entitled "Report of the Co-Chairs of the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace," which described some telling results.

The task force concluded sexual harassment remains a significant workplace issue.  It also concluded that workplace sexual harassment training initiatives are often ineffective in stopping such misconduct.  "Much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool," the EEOC commissioners wrote, adding that "ineffective training can be unhelpful or even counterproductive."  They found that the most common trainings are designed to minimize legal risk to companies rather than to change behavior in supervisors or employees.

The report does provide some recommendations to address the problem.  The task force suggests that employers tailor programs to meet the particular needs of the company, developing a "holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top" and holds all levels of employees accountable for their role in prevention.

"One size does not fit all" and unique programs are needed to "ensure that those who engage in harassment are held responsible in a meaningful, appropriate, and proportional manner, and that those who job it is to prevent or respond to harassment should be rewarded for doing that job well (or penalized for failing to do so)."

The report provides practical resources, including checklists and a "risk factor" analysis, to help employers assess their organization and respond appropriately.  Finally, the Report proposes exploring new approaches to anti-harassment trainings, including "bystander intervention trainings" – that give employees tools to intervene when they witness harassing behavior – and "civility trainings" – that foster a general culture of respect and workplace civility aimed at all employees, regardless of whether a person falls into a legally protected class.

The report reiterates the long-standing recommendation against cookie cutter or web-based trainings, and reminds employers that interactive sessions with scenario-based discussions using hypotheticals relevant to the workplace itself are far more effective.  More recently, those of us who conduct such trainings have gone further and incorporated small group discussions and role play into training sessions to encourage forthright discussion about the impact of harassment and to foster understanding and empathy.

Bystander intervention training is not a new idea.  Schools have for some time utilized this approach to address bullying.  After all, a middle school student in a locker room with his peers is far more likely to respond to their admonitions to stop teasing a teammate than he is listen to a lecture from his coach.  Similarly, an employee in the plant cafeteria loudly telling ethnic jokes at break time is more likely to stop if other employees speak up to say his comments are offensive.

Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that women continue to be reluctant to come forward to report even the most egregious behavior out of fear that they will not be believed or that they will suffer retribution for raising a complaint against a powerful person.  Even women now finding the courage, likely bolstered by the sheer number of others who have spoken up, are chastised and questioned as to "what took so long" by other women.  One must wonder how the bartender, administrative assistant and production worker can be expected to speak up when it took Ashley Judd, Kate Winslet and Megyn Kelly decades.  Clearly, effective training has to include the notion of empowering victims and bystanders to report without fear of retaliation.

Employers wondering if the latest public scandals are limited to the high and the mighty have only to look at social media and the task force report to see that harassment affects all manner of workplaces and all levels of employees.

The risk factors mentioned in the task force report are worth reviewing:

  • Homogenous workplaces where the majority of individuals are of a particular gender, race or ethnic group create the potential for the minority to be singled out to be made uncomfortable; 
  • Workplaces where some do not conform to behavioral or sexual "norms;"
  • Workplaces with younger workers who may be particularly vulnerable to advances or where young managers may not be properly trained in appropriate behavior;
  • Workplaces with "higher value" employees such as those who bring in more sales or clients or those who possess particular creative talents or technical skills, the "we can't lose him" employee;
  • Workplace cultures that tolerate or encourage alcohol use; and
  • Workplaces that rely on client service or satisfaction, where those employees most admired by the client or the company's audience are protected even if they behave poorly.

The task force report confirmed that the problem has not gone away, and the recent flood of public disclosures demonstrates how critical it is for businesses, including law firms, to act swiftly to address the issue with meaningful training programs, appropriate role models and swift remedial action when policies are violated.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
McLane Middleton, Professional Association
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
McLane Middleton, Professional Association
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions