#MeToo, Sexual Harassment, and Valentine’s Day (2019 Edition)
“Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.”
So declares Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) in the opening scene of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s Valentine’s Day and Joel is standing at a train platform, waiting for the commuter rail. But when it pulls up, he bolts away, boards a different train, and calls in sick to work from a pay phone at the next stop. It’s an impulsive decision that causes him, ironically, to cross paths with Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), with whom he falls in love.
Regardless of whether you share Joel’s cynicism about February 14th, it’s hard not to admire his instincts. Does anyone actually look forward to spending Valentine’s Day at work?
The holiday has always been a tricky one from a workforce compliance perspective, but it seems particularly dicey in our current climate. The #MeToo movement has sparked a global conversation about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. States such as New York and California have enacted sweeping new harassment prevention laws. Annual numbers of harassment and discrimination complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have reached historic highs.
Times have changed. In 2019, employers can’t ignore the risks this holiday presents, or—in true Eternal Sunshine style—hope any painful, embarrassing, and potentially unlawful Valentine’s Day moments magically disappear from their employees’ memories.
Think your organization has nothing to worry about? Still not convinced you should ditch those candy hearts and cupcakes in favor of something more appropriate? See if you feel differently after taking a look at some of the latest news about sexual harassment in the workplace:
“A recent report, authored by an insurance industry consultant, reveals new measures that insurers are taking to mitigate the risks of writing harassment policies, including decisions to exclude entire industries from their portfolios.
The increased vigilance comes as harassment complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are on the rise, perhaps sparked by the wave of #MeToo revelations. The EEOC received 7,609 sexual harassment charges in its 2018 fiscal year, up nearly 14 percent from 2017. These numbers don’t include an unknown number of complaints settled by victims who never contacted the federal regulator.
Ten of the 32 insurance companies polled by Richard S. Betterley, publisher of the Betterley Report, said they were not underwriting the legal industry. Financial firms, including brokers, investment banks, and venture capital operations landed on the prohibited lists of eight insurers. Seven insurers said they’d blacklisted companies in the entertainment industry.”
NCSL Program Director on harassment prevention: “Over 125 pieces of legislation have been introduced this year in 32 states”
Suzanne Hultin, director of the Employment, Labor & Retirement program at the National Conference of State Legislatures, recently told the EEOC that the #MeToo movement has precipitated legislative changes in more than half of all states across the US. According to her testimony:
“Along with legislative trends regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, NCSL has also tracked legislation to reduce sexual harassment within the statehouse walls. Over 125 pieces of legislation have been introduced this year in 32 states. The response has varied from state to state. Some legislatures have conducted reviews of their internal sexual harassment policies and updated them in response to the renewed interest in the subject. Other states have made more sweeping changes. Notably, Illinois requires all state offices to have a written sexual harassment policy, to conduct mandatory sexual harassment training and require all lobbyists to attend training and to have a written sexual harassment policy in place at the time of registration. Indiana passed legislation that mandates sexual harassment training for legislators and Virginia passed legislation mandating training for legislators and legislative employees and Maryland’s new policy extends that training to all state employees and all registered lobbyists. In addition to passing direct legislation, numerous chambers created committees to examine their internal policies and procedures. California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, just to name a few, created committees and commissions to review their practices and update them when necessary. Finally, two legislators have been expelled by their chamber due to sexual harassment allegations and 15 more have resigned.
Although many legislative sessions are coming to a close, I do not expect this topic to die down any time soon and anticipate many states introducing similar legislation in the 2019 legislative sessions.”
Speaking of the EEOC, the Commission recently reconvened its Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace to lay “the groundwork for the launch of a renewed effort to prevent harassment.” Learn more.
“The latest tools for sexual assault victims: Smartphone apps and software”
Last fall, The Washington Post reported on a number of new organizations and services launched in the wake of the #MeToo movement. One such organization is Callisto—whose CEO, Jess Ladd, spoke to the Post:
“‘It often takes a lot of time for people to label what happened to them as assault,’ explained Ladd, who has said she was assaulted as an undergraduate at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. ‘Once you’ve had your moment of realization that what occurred was wrong, then you have to ask, “Do I want to come forward?” and, if I still believe my perpetrator is a good person, “Do I want to ruin the life of a good person?”’
‘Blaming yourself can be easier,’ she added.
Because that decision is so trying and so personal for many assault survivors, Ladd founded Callisto, a nonprofit organization that has created software for reporting sexual misconduct on college campuses. The reports are time-stamped and saved on an encrypted database but not immediately submitted to authorities. The software tracks complaints and then flags those that involve a repeat offender, alerting victims and school officials in the process.”
“Emojis Are Starting to Pop Up in Discrimination and Harassment Cases”
Yes, you read that correctly. Welcome to the future nobody wanted.
Attorney Jon Hyman writes:
“According to Bloomberg Law, mentions of emojis in federal discrimination lawsuits doubled from 2016 to 2017. Let’s not get crazy. The doubling went from six cases to 12 cases. But, a trend is a trend.
While harassment cases dominate these filings, it’s not just employees who are using 🍆 to establish a hostile work environment. Employers are using employees’ use of emojis to respond to alleged acts of harassment (such as 😄, or 😊, or 😉) to help establish that the alleged hostile work environment was either welcomed or subjectively not offensive.”
“Agency Creatives Offer Their Own #MeToo-Era Takes on the Classic Valentine’s Day Card”
Last year, Adweek featured work by two agencies using rebranded Valentine’s Day cards to address workplace issues in the #MeToo era. The first took a lighthearted (no pun intended) approach:
“London-based creative duo Connor Stephen and Charlie Ditchfield created ‘Save Valentines,’ which asks, ‘How does a #MeToo-conscious human proceed?’
The covers of these ‘Post-Weinstein’ cards feature such reliable holiday messages as ‘Forever Yours’ and ‘Be My Valentine.’ Inside the cards, however, viewers are confronted with awkward lines like ‘Or until such a time as you no longer welcome my affections. Which is completely within your rights as an individual,’ and “‘Which is not to suggest in any way that I would possess you or that you are anything less than a human being with your own will and autonomy,’ respectively.”
The other was decidedly more serious and to-the-point:
“Associate creative director Kassandra Pollard’s ‘Consensual Greetings’ project approaches the subject from a very different perspective. Pollard emphasized that while they might seem humorous, the Consensual Greetings cards are not a joke.
The inside of each card confirms as much via a small line reading, ‘Just like sexual harassment, this card isn’t a joke. Stop doing and saying inappropriate things that add to the problem.’
‘To me, it was important to make it clear that these cards are sending a serious message and not making light of women’s situations,’ Pollard told Adweek.”
Here at Compli, we’ve created our own set of compliance-themed “Valentines.” Learn more and download a free set for your office.
For more stories about #MeToo, sexual harassment, and Valentine’s Day in the workplace, check out our roundup from last year. And if any of these stories are making your heart race (in a panicked, not romantic way), or you have employees suspiciously calling in sick this Valentine’s Day, it might be to time update your harassment prevention initiatives. See how Compli’s automated platform can make it easy.