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How Harvey Weinstein is altering the landscape of workplace sexual harassment

Will Harvey Weinstein reshape the national discussion about sexual harassment at work?

The scandal that rocked Hollywood and toppled the career of the famous producer has raised the discussion of workplace misconduct to a new level. Coming on the heels of other sexual harassment scandals involving high-profile men like Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes of Fox News, the Weinstein case is prompting a re-evaluation of how harassment is handled in the workplace.

“If we can see a silver lining in this horrible situation, it has started a dialogue,” said Michelle Lee Flores, an employment litigation attorney with Cozen O’Connor in Los Angeles. “It’s a paradigm shift. I think it will encourage and empower people to speak up.”

Some efforts to address the situation have already begun. A large-scale anti-harassment training program was introduced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission a day before the Weinstein allegations were first reported by The New York Times earlier this month. The program includes tools for responding to harassing behavior and teaches bystanders when and how to intervene.

While sexual harassment is in the spotlight now, complaints filed with the EEOC, the federal agency that enforces U.S. labor law, haven’t changed much. Almost 30 percent of the 91,500 complaints received by the EEOC in 2016 included an accusation of sex-based workplace harassment. In Illinois, 1,325 claims of sex-based harassment were filed with the agency last year. That’s a slight uptick from the previous two years, but complaints have held fairly steady over the past decade.

However, those numbers may barely scratch the surface. The EEOC estimates that three-fourths of people who are sexually harassed on the job don’t tell anyone.

To truly put an end to harassment in the workplace, experts say not only must there be strong anti-harassment policies in place, there also must be real consequences for harassers. And most importantly, there must be a culture that doesn’t ignore the behavior.

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