How many accused harassers are allowed to return to work? More than you might think

A new study from Michigan State University has revealed that, two years since #metoo went viral, nearly half of accused harassers are allowed to return to work.

It’s been two years since #metoo went viral, igniting long-overdue conversations about the ways women face harassment in the workplace. This dialogue has played a pivotal role in dismantling the stigma around sexual harassment and assault, arming women with the knowledge of what should not be acceptable, and galvanising workplaces into restructuring their internal framework to overhaul toxic workplace culture.

And yet, it appears some workplaces have blatantly missed the memo, given the shockingly high number of accused harassers that are allowed to go back to work: nearly half are allowed to return after disputes are settled by arbitrators or third-parties who resolve disputes, according to new research from Michigan State University.

The findings, published by the Hofstra Labor & Employment Law Journal, looked at the outcomes of 60 arbitration cases in which the accused harasser challenged his or her punishment. Only 52% of cases ended up in harassers being fired. In other cases, 13% were allowed to return to work without punishment, 12% could come back to work with no back pay, 20% were suspended (and then allowed to return to work) and 2% were reduced to a warning.

“I was very surprised by the number of people who were proven to be harassers and were allowed to come back to work,” said Stacy Hickox, associate professor in MSU’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations. In many cases, the accusedreturned to work after claiming they were disciplined without just cause where the employer failed to provide enough proof. Others were reinstated because arbitrators were bound by the company’s policies.

48% of accused harassers were allowed to return to work

Hickox and co-author Michelle Kaminski, associate professor in MSU’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, found that in many cases a company thought their accused employee should have received tougher punishment but were bound by a company’s policy. If the policy didn’t specifically prohibit the harassment, then arbitrator was unable to enforce it.

Hickox continued: “It is interesting that the employer’s anti-harassment policies play a part in whether the harasser’s discipline was upheld. Policies that included specific examples of harassment were more often associated with the discipline being upheld.”

Both of the study’s authors called for more carefully crafted anti-harassment policies. Hickox said: “To be sure that these harassers aren’t allowed back into the workplace, employers need to look much more closely at harassment policies, as well as the power they give arbitrators in resolving these cases.

“I believe that arbitration is a fair process and can be effective, but I’m a firm believer in consequences,” Hickox said. “You can train people on harassment until they’re blue in the face, but until there are clearer, more stringent policies from employers, the issue will continue.”

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