The number of sexual harassment charges filed per year has decreased, but this does not indicate that sexual harassment in the workplace
has slowed down. In fact, recent poll shows that 1 in 4 women face sexual harassment in the workplace. These sexual harassment claims increasingly either go unreported or are handled through arbitration and confidential settlements. “The Silencing of Sexual Harassment”, an article published by Jeff Green of Business Week on November 17, 2011, discusses this recent trend towards settlement and hints at its implications.
One positive trend is that corporations are taking sexual harassment claims more seriously. They spend more money per year training employees on these issues and are more likely to take action against harassers now than they were in the past.
The types of claims that are filed have also changed. Instead of demands for sexual favors, there are more complaints of inappropriate sexual remarks, emails and texts. Also, there has been an increase in complaints filed by men against both male and female bosses.
More employers now require new hires to agree to arbitrate sexual harassment complaints or opt for pre-trial settlement when dealing with sexual harassment complaints. Since arbitrations are confidential, there is no way to tell how many sexual harassment cases actually come up per year. This may be a positive trend in that victims have their cases resolved faster than in the past. But the increase in mediation as a solution for sexual harassment complaints may also be negative in that it protects perpetrators. Companies may sign a large check to make the sexual harassment complaint go away, but are conveniently hidden behind the cloak of confidentiality. This reduces the company’s sense of liability and allows for the perpetrator to continue in his or her harassment. More victims may arise.
By resorting to arbitration, mediation and confidential settlements to resolve sexual harassment matters, victims may find closure sooner. But the confidentiality that results from these settlements may have a long term negative effect by silencing the victims and allowing for perpetrators and employers to continue their harmful conduct.