INDUSTRY TRENDS

Working in the Post #MeToo Movement: Employers Need To Train, Employees Need To Know Their Rights

Davida S. Perry

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC) one in four women will experience sexual harassment in the workplace and 75% of these women will never report it.

Sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination as does pregnancy and gender discrimination. The New York City law, which was amended in 1991, is more expansive than the federal and state laws, which is a benefit if you work and live in New York City and are filing a claim.

Then why the underreporting? So many reasons, says recent Salon guest speaker Davida S. Perry, co-founder and managing partner of Schwartz Perry & Heller, but they all start with fear. Fear of having your reputation damaged. Fear of damage to your career. Fear of retaliation. Fear that the company will not act, will not take it seriously, will trivialize it. Fear of humiliation. Fear of being ostracized. Feeling that it’s somehow your fault.

“But the biggest fear is the fear of punishment, of retaliation,” says Perry.

No wonder. According to Perry about 70% of all sexual harassment cases involve some sort of assertion of power. Retaliation is illegal but it happens.

Perhaps in a bid to change the statistics, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doesn’t want us to refer to people that are sexually harassed as “victims.” They’ve changed the word to “target.”

The #MeToo Movement became an international phenomena in 2017. The world listened throughout 2018 and the stories continue into 2019 as survivors have come forward. The headlines are not as frequent, but sadly not much has changed for the average female worker who has a harassment complaint.

“It’s 2019 but we still have that kind of ‘blame the victim’ mentality, that first question, what were you wearing, what did you do to cause it. It still exists,” says Perry.

NYC.gov Sexual Discrimination Poster. Click for full-size pdf.

The #MeToo movement has helped to some extent. There’s a sense now that women are being believed when they come forward maybe in a different way than before. Further, amendments to the New York State and City Human Rights Laws now provide for mandatory, yearly anti-sexual harassment training and written policies, which if endorsed by senior management might be helpful in creating a culture that truly has zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

The biggest point made by Perry in speaking to NYWICI is that a claim must be substantiated, and documentation is critical to proving a claim. For additional information visit: sphlegal.com

Note: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC), is the Federal agency that administers the Federal sexual discrimination law.

— Lea-Ann Germinder

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