Employment and Labor

Workplace Harassment: The U.S. Workplace After 6 Years Of #MeToo

Workplace Harassment: The U.S. Workplace After 6 Years Of #MeToo

Chase Hattaway talks with HR.com about the impact of the #MeToo movement on the U.S. work culture, challenges employers face when addressing workplace harassment in a remote setup, and more.


  • The #MeToo movement led to legislative changes, allowing victims to bring suits in court despite arbitration agreements.
  • Harassment can still occur through virtual means, and employers need to update policies to address such situations.
  • Investigating and resolving harassment complaints for remote employees may require close cooperation with IT personnel to preserve electronic evidence.

Q: Where does Corporate America stand (almost) six years after the #MeToo movement?

Chase: The #MeToo movement helped the country focus on workplace sexual harassment. It also brought legislative changes, including the passage of the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021. This legislation amended the Federal Arbitration Act to allow individuals complaining of sexual assault or sexual harassment to bring suit in state or federal court, even if they had previously agreed to arbitrate such claims. The #MeToo movement also spurred state legislation throughout the country. 

Q: Has sexual harassment in the workplace decreased? Why?

Chase: It is difficult to know whether sexual harassment in the workplace has decreased, given that discrimination and harassment of any kind can, and often does, go unreported. Anecdotally, however, it seems that the #Metoo movement was effective in, on the one hand, discouraging workplace sexual harassment and, on the other hand, encouraging victims of sexual harassment to submit complaints. 

Q: How has it changed in a remote/hybrid setting?

Chase: A remote/hybrid setting does not prevent sexual harassment from occurring. Instead, the harassment simply occurs via video, telephone, email, etc., as opposed to in-person. In some ways, this harassment can be uniquely invasive, given that the employee is being subjected to harassment while in his or her home.  

Q: What changes do we need to make in order to bring more focus to this issue?

Chase: Employers should ensure that their policies are broad enough to include harassment that might occur in a remote environment. For example, employers should broaden policies that simply prohibit physical touching or intimidation. Employers should also provide counseling to employees, and tailor the counseling to issues affecting remote employees. For example, employers may want to provide training on expectations for communicating via video conference. Once a complaint of harassment is made, employers should take immediate steps to investigate the complaint and, if necessary, take action to prevent the harassment from continuing to occur. 

Q: What are the specific challenges or considerations when addressing workplace harassment for remote employees?

Chase: One key challenge with addressing workplace harassment for remote employees is that misconduct sometimes occurs on phone calls or Zoom meetings, where the victim is alone with the perpetrator. Such behavior might not occur if the employees were in front of other employees in an office environment. Once the employer is made aware of the harassment, it must take action to prevent the harassment from continuing.  

Q: How does the process of investigating and resolving workplace harassment complaints work for remote employees?

Chase: Many of the same principles of investigating and resolving workplace harassment apply to remote and in-person employees. With harassment complaints pertaining to remote employees, however, employers may need to work more closely with IT personnel, given that the harassment was likely to have occurred electronically. So, the employer may need its IT department to preserve emails or private messages to investigate complaints of harassment.  

Q: What are the policies or guidelines employers should establish to address workplace harassment in a remote work setting?

Chase: Employers should update policies that were drafted before employees started working remotely so that the policies apply to remote work. With regard to anti-harassment policies, employers should ensure that the policies are broad enough to cover remote work. So, for example, policies should prohibit harassment that might not involve physical touching or intimidation, but that might nonetheless rise to harassment. Employers should also enforce policies uniformly and, to the extent possible, consistently for employees working in an office and remotely.   

Q: What are the recent legal developments or trends related to workplace harassment for remote employees that employers and employees should be aware of?

Chase: With more and more employees working remotely, it is only logical that employers will experience more complaints of harassment by remote employees. While the mechanism by which the harassment occurs may have changed, employers’ legal responsibilities have largely remained the same. Employers that receive complaints of harassment (whether from an employee in the office or out of the office) should investigate the complaint, ensure the employee is not subjected to retaliation, and, if necessary, ensure that the harassment does not occur in the future. Employers should also have and enforce sexual harassment policies to prevent harassment from occurring in the first place. 

This article originally published on HR.com on August 2, 2023 and is republished here with permission from the publication