The #MeToo movement as we know it today kicked off in 2017 in the wake of sexual assault allegations brought against Harvey Weinstein. It was in 2006, however, when American activist Tarana Burke conceived the official Me Too movement, only without the hashtag in this pre-Twitter era. Two years after its viral rebirth on social media, #MeToo appears to be an evergreen component to the news cycle, but how have these conversations impacted the work environment and the laws around it?
Below, we list 5 legal implications of the viral #MeToo movement.
Understanding the legal definition of workplace harassment
In the discussions surrounding the #MeToo movement after the Weinstein scandal, the workplace has almost always been the focal setting for harassment allegations all over the world. It was clear that although many of the initial headlines covered the entertainment industry, many women, and some men, famous or otherwise, had been globally navigating the issue of abuse in their careers.
The International Labour Organization has now adopted a treaty that calls for global standards on harassment at work, requiring nations to create legislation that protects workers. The coalition behind this campaign is building towards the following: a mandatory code of conduct that will explain to employers what is needed to prevent harassment, compulsory training for managers and staff, and consequences for those who don’t comply.
One of the largest organizational changes that arose in the immediate aftermath of #MeToo’s viral moment was the Times Up Legal Defense Fund. Created to help survivors of sexual misconduct get legal representation, especially those in low-wage industries, Time’s Up gathered approximately 800 volunteers and raised $22 million within its first year. Today, it has connected an estimated 3,680 people with attorneys to pursue possible legal action.
The Restriction of NDAs
NDA’s and the context in which they are managed have also been reconsidered. In America, a few states such as Washington and California have restricted the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims. Under California law, only plaintiffs in sexual harassment or assault cases can now request NDAs; those accused of misconduct are barred from requiring them of employees. Washington's laws, passed in 2018, additionally prohibit employers from requiring people to sign NDAs as a condition of employment.
Facilitating Union Requests
Prior to the #MeToo coverage, unions and their respective members would have had more difficulty in accessing protection from harassment and abuse, especially in the hospitality and domestic business. Within the past two years, however, vulnerable individuals now have a platform to request their employers for protections.
In hotels, for example, the right to the possession of panic buttons has emerged in the wake of employees feeling unsafe when cleaning guest rooms. Nevertheless, many domestic workers still lack sexual harassment protections because they work for employers with fewer than 15 employees. These workers, disproportionately women of color and often making a low wage, have little resources to leverage should they find themselves in exposed situations.
Continuing the dialogue surrounding pay discrimination
Despite not receiving media exposure to the extent of harassment and assault cases, a significant portion of people have continued to rally behind the efforts to reduce the gender pay gap. In the UK, more than 100 high-profile businesswomen have set up the #MeTooPay campaign, a recent initiative aimed at tackling salary discrimination within both public and private sectors. Its website, still in its early days, seeks to educate the population on “the latest stories of pay discrimination, crucial court cases, and [being] a place to share good and bad policies in action.”
On 7th November, our brand Fyte will collaborate with legal firm Magrath Sheldrick to host an interactive seminar focused on #MeToo and its impacts on the work environment. Click here to find out more about our networking event, please visit our Eventbrite page.