Why Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Is So Difficult to Stop

Susan Fowler, writing for the New York Times, notes that it is now abundantly clear that sexual harassment is pervasive in every industry. While getting rid of it will not be easy, we now know some facts that will help:

  • We have to stop the practice of forced arbitration as a condition of employment. Forced arbitration takes away our rights to sue in court and can legally bind us to keep silent about what has happened to us. A recent Supreme Court decision confirming that employers can continue this practice means that we need new federal legislation to make this change.
  • We need legislation at the state and federal levels to protect employees.
    • Some progress has been made at the state level in Washington state and California.
    • We need much more progress at the federal level, including new legislation to eliminate forced arbitration as a condition of employment.
Jodi Kantor of the New York Times notes that there exists “giant holes in the federal laws meant to protect women from harassment.” These can come in several different forms:
  • Existing law only covers workplaces with fifteen or more employees.
  • Federal statutes of limitations for filing a claim can be as short as 180 days.
  • Damages can be capped at $300,000.
Kantor goes on to explain that harassment has flourished partly because structures intended to address it or protect against it are missing or broken:
  • Weak laws fail to protect women.
  • Corporate policies and procedures protect the company but not the employees.
  • Secret settlements protect offenders and keep patterns of abuse out of the public eye.
  • Human resources departments focus on protecting organizations from legal liability rather than protecting employees.
  • No consensus exists on how to report a repeat offender who goes from job to job or to address more minor infractions with measures short of suspension or firing.
  • Low wage workers are now more willing to speak up about sexual harassment, but it’s not clear who they should tell.
Even some of the most powerful women in the United States have so far been unable to get protections for congressional staff. All twenty-two female members of the Senate—Republican and Democrat—have pushed for an overhaul of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, which provides more protection for members of Congress who are accused of sexual harassment than it does for the victims. #MeToo and #TimesUp are important movements to keep the pressure on for change. We must support and vote for candidates in the upcoming elections, at the state and federal levels, who are committed to passing legislation to protect women. Support candidates who support women.   Photo courtesy of Phil Roeder (CC BY 2.0)]]>