Will employers act effectively to curb it?

Executive Summary

In the four months since The New York Times shone a spotlight on sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a sea change has occurred in the workplace. Dozens of high-profile men have been accused of sexual misconduct, bringing them public shame and often dismissal. Female employees, emboldened by the growth of the #MeToo movement, are speaking up and reporting incidents in growing numbers. Employers are rewriting policy and training handbooks to forestall harassment, seeking to get in front of a problem that has already resulted in nearly $700 million in settlements over a six-year period. Investors are pressuring companies to act and are considering harassment issues as they make investment decisions. Yet some express concern that the changing climate may create unintended consequences that could harm the intended beneficiaries.

Some key takeaways include:

  • More than one-third of human resources professionals said they have taken a sexual harassment complaint in the past year.

  • While high-profile fields such as entertainment and mass media have gotten the most publicity, most of the complaints filed with federal authorities are in less glamorous industries such as retail, manufacturing and health care.

  • Clauses requiring employees to accept arbitration and confidentiality when they file harassment complaints are drawing fire from critics who say the practice makes it harder to address the problem.

  • Click here to listen to an interview with author Sharon O’Malley.

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Resources for Further Study



Bennett, Jessica, “Feminist Fight Club: A Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace,” HarperCollins, 2016. A journalist blends her personal stories of harassment with an assessment of sexism in the American workplace.

Carlson, Gretchen, “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back,” Center Street, 2017. The former Fox News anchorwoman, who received a $20 million settlement from the network after accusing its former CEO, Roger Ailes, of sexual harassment, shares her experience and those of other women with similar stories.

Elsesser, Kim, “Sex and the Office: Women, Men, and the Sex Partition That’s Dividing the Workplace,” Taylor Trade Publishing, 2013, updated 2015. A Forbes contributor delves into issues that create barriers between men and women at work, including sexual harassment policies, workplace romances and differences in communicating.


Chira, Susan, and Catrin Einhorn, “How Tough Is It to Change a Culture of Harassment? Ask Women at Ford,” The New York Times, Dec. 19, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y9xarhua. Two New York Times reporters reveal the “stubborn persistence” of sexual harassment at Ford Motor Co. by interviewing the women whose lawsuit led the automaker to settle with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for $10 million in August 2017.

Fowler, Susan, “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber,” Susan Fowler Blog, Feb. 19, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/j5vvzhu. The engineer whose complaints about sexual harassment led to the dismissal of Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick alleges that the ride-sharing service ignored the sexual harassment claims that she and other women made against a high-performing manager.

Kim, Crystal, Leslie P. Norton and Lauren R. Rublin, “Sexual Harassment Is Becoming a Serious Investment Threat,” Barron’s, Nov. 4, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/yablmsha. A trio of Barron’s columnists explores the struggle that companies with sexual harassment scandals face when it comes to raising money and staying in business.

Reports and Studies

“Harassment-Free Workplace Series: A Focus on Sexual Harassment,” Society for Human Resource Management, Jan. 31, 2018, http://tinyurl.com/ycwxldho. The world’s largest organization for human resource professionals presents findings from a yearlong survey of its members about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Feldblum, Chai R., and Victoria A. Lipnic, “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace: Report of Co-Chairs Chai R. Feldblum & Victoria A. Lipnic,” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, June 2016, http://tinyurl.com/y8xux2gn. Two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission members summarize the recommendations of a task force on workplace harassment.

McLaughlin, Heather, Christopher Uggen and Amy Blackstone, “The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women,” Gender & Society, June 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y8vbjmm6. Three sociology professors say women who experience sexual harassment early in their careers are likely to quit their jobs and change their professions as a result.

Parramore, Lynn, “$MeToo: The Economic Cost of Sexual Harassment,” Institute for New Economic Thinking, January 2018, http://tinyurl.com/ydx6zjhe. A senior research analyst for a research organization surveys the findings of studies and reports on sexual harassment’s financial impact on businesses, the government and women.

The Next Step

Arbitration Clauses

Gershman, Jacob, “As More Companies Demand Arbitration Agreements, Sexual Harassment Claims Fizzle,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 25, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ybnzmgp4. The percentage of nonunion private-sector employees covered by mandatory arbitration clauses has doubled since the early 2000s, and many workers covered by such clauses wind up dropping harassment claims. One reason is that lawyers are reluctant to take cases that go to an arbitration panel rather than a court.

Thomsen, Jacqueline, “AGs demand Congress end mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment cases,” The Hill, Feb. 13, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y6we6bku. The attorneys general from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories have demanded that Congress pass legislation to end mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment cases.

Wingfield, Nick, and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, “Microsoft Moves to End Secrecy in Sexual Harassment Claims,” The New York Times, Dec. 19, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y75l259m. Microsoft has ended mandatory arbitration in employee sexual harassment cases and announced its support for federal legislation that would ban agreements requiring arbitration in such cases.


Hendrix, Steve, Ellie Silverman and Marc Fisher, “Lunches, hugs, and break-room banter: Where are the new boundaries at work?” The Washington Post, Jan. 28, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yap9tdan. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, some people are struggling to navigate the differences between sexual harassment and friendly interaction in the workplace.

Marotti, Ally, “#MeToo revelations have made workplace romances complicated for employers,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 13, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y99msz5s. More employers now require co-workers in new relationships to complete “love contracts,” also known as “consensual romance in the workplace agreements.”

Smartt, Nicole, “Sexual Harassment In The Workplace In A #MeToo World,” Forbes, Dec. 20, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ycqflyhr. Supervisors should heighten vigilance to potential signs of sexual harassment in the workplace in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, advises the co-owner and vice president of Star Staffing, a California-based employment firm.


7955 Cameron Brown Court, Springfield, VA 22153
A nonprofit that develops training programs and strategies for prevention of sexual assault and harassment, community mobilization, bystander intervention and response versus prevention.

Center for American Progress
1333 H St., N.W., 10th Floor, Washington, DC 20005
Liberal institute that develops policy ideas, seeks to promote media coverage of important issues and works to shape national debate.

Center for Workplace Compliance
1501 M St., N.W., Suite 400, Washington DC 20005
Advises member companies on compliance with equal employment opportunity and affirmative action regulations.

Employers Council
175 W. 200 South, Suite 2005, Salt Lake City, UT 84101
Membership organization with six Western locations that supplies companies with attorneys, human resource professionals, researchers, trainers, investigators and other specialists.

Equal Rights Advocates
1170 Market St., Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94102
A nonprofit legal organization dedicated to protecting and expanding economic and educational access and opportunities for women and girls.

Institute for Women’s Policy Research
200 18th St., N.W., Suite 301, Washington, DC 20036
Promotes women’s issues and polices to strengthen families and communities.

Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave., S.W., Washington, DC 20202
The federal agency that enforces Title IX, which forbids discrimination based on sex in education.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
131 M St., N.E., Washington, DC 20002
The federal agency that enforces workplace sexual harassment laws.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680407.n1