News & Events

Responses to the #MeToo Movement
May 30, 2019


Since the #MeToo movement began achieving national recognition roughly a year-and-a-half ago, there has been a growing chorus of responses from employers and employees. Some of the responses have been efforts to ensure a work culture that is respectful, where people are treated with dignity and fairness and where anti-harassment and anti-discrimination efforts are an integral part of the culture. Other responses have been a bit more cynical. A recent spate of reports is emerging in response to the #MeToo movement, that, attempting to avoid harassment claims or avoid the appearance of impropriety, many employers and male employees are avoiding interaction with women in the workplace. The avoidance takes the form of refusing to work with or hire women, refusing to give women assignments, refusing to have meetings or meals with women, refusing to travel with women as well as refusing to implement workplace rules which enforce equal standards for male and female employees.

Although some of these measures are aimed at avoiding false allegations or rumors, other measures seem to take on a more punitive purpose of punishing women for the #MeToo movement. Regardless of the reason, treating females in the workplace differently from males will land a company in hot water. Refusing to interact professionally with women in the workplace may avoid a harassment claim only to risk creating a viable discrimination claim to be brought against an employer and higher-level management.

Acts such as those described above are illegal and a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. They are also detrimental to business and employees. Not only may potential customers and clients be reticent to do business with a company that discriminates against women, but these practices and policies also hinder the development of human capital. Women, like men, benefit from working with and having private professional conversations with leadership and senior staff. Women as well as men benefit from the knowledge and training gained by working closely with experienced employees. Given that leadership in most companies is still primarily male, exclusion of and refusal to work with women makes it less likely that women will develop advocates and sponsors in the workplace, both of which can supply critical support for a person’s career advancement.

The solution to this problem is simple: Establish, enforce and train based on policies of equal treatment for male and female employees in working relationships. If an employee holds one-on-one meetings with male employees, hold one-on-one meetings with female employees. If an employee participates in group settings with female subordinates only, begin to participate in group-setting activities with male subordinates as well. Failure to treat men and women equally, and creating special rules for women, is no solution for avoiding a harassment suit. It is, however, an effective course of action to render your organization vulnerable to a harassment and discrimination suit.

For advice about managing your workplace or for practical post-#MeToo harassment and discrimination training, contact Susan Motschiedler at smotschiedler@parsonsbehle.com or by calling 801.532.1234.