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Sexual harassment tops employers' legal concerns, study finds

The #MeToo movement has fostered remedial actions from about half of businesses, but vulnerabilities persist, the report notes.

The #MeToo movement has turned sexual harassment into the top labor-related regulatory issue for restaurateurs and other employers, triggering action from three out of four companies, according to a new survey on workforce concerns.

About two-thirds (66%) of employers rank the issue among their top two employment-related legal worries, even without a change in the pertinent laws and regulations, the canvass found.

What has changed, concluded surveyor Littler Mendelson, one of the nation’s largest labor-focused legal firms, are employee expectations and the social climate. Harassment allegations against a slew of prominent men, including celebrity chefs such as Mario Batali and John Besh, have made the issue a flashpoint.

No company can afford to ignore this issue, and while many already have a good foundation, the past several months have shown the importance of re-evaluating and reinforcing policies and procedures,” Helene Wasserman, co-chair of Littler's litigation and trials practice group, said in a statement.

The nation’s employers have responded, the law firm discovered in its survey of 1,100 companies. More than half (55%) have added training for supervisors and staff, and one in three (38%) have updated their policies or handbooks.

But, Littler noted, only 13% of employers have made it easier for alleged instances of sexual harassment to be reported and investigated, and 24% have sat idle as headlines raise awareness of the matter.

“In addition to providing training and updating policies, it’s critical that companies have effective complaint procedures in place and that employees feel confident that reports of potential misconduct will be taken seriously and acted upon,” Wasserman said.

A media spotlight has also raised employers’ concern about disparity in pay for men and women: 41% rank the issue among their top two workforce-related legal worries. Nearly two-thirds (61%) have reviewed their pay practices and salary data, and roughly one in three (34%) no longer ask job candidates about their salary histories, a practice that tends to perpetuate a pay gap.

The heightened concerns about gender-related matters were part of what Littler found to be a significant shift in businesses’ concerns on the regulatory front, a result it tied to a changed environment in Washington, D.C.

Fears about the cost of complying with the Affordable Care Act, for instance, have dropped about half. Only about 15% of employers say they now expect a significant impact, down from 33% in Littler’s 2017 survey.

Concerns about running afoul of federal wage and hour rules have also dropped, to 16%, compared with last year’s measure of 25%.  

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