New Littler Research Reveals 79% of European Employers are Taking Action to Reduce Risks of Sexual Harassment

  • One-fifth of employers have reopened past sexual harassment investigations
  • 43% also want gender pay gap reporting laws introduced
  • UK lags behind in its response to #MeToo movement

(November 12, 2018) – The #MeToo movement has prompted 79% of European employers to take concrete action to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace, according to new research conducted by Littler, the world’s largest employment and labour law practice representing management.

The research, which is based on survey responses from over 800 senior individuals working at companies in Europe, says the steps taken by employers over the last year have resulted in significant changes to workplace practices, physical work spaces and even interactions between employees.

One-fifth of employers have reopened past sexual harassment investigations

In response to #MeToo, the research found that one-in-five European employers have even gone as far as to reopen past sexual harassment investigations. This has been a common response amongst employers in Belgium (28%), Germany (23%) and France (23%).

Littler says reopening past investigations is a serious step for employers to take and reflects the high levels of concern caused by #MeToo. As a result, a large number of both current and ex-employees could be exposed to further investigation and subsequent legal action.

Some employers have already acted as a result of reopening investigations. For example, a European investment bank dismissed two employees in London last year after an ex-employee was inspired by #MeToo to write to the CEO asking him to look again at a past sexual harassment case.

However, the research finds that only 13% of employers in the UK have reopened past investigations, the lowest in Europe. At 29%, UK employers also exceed the European average (21%) of being the least likely to take any action in response to #MeToo.

Additional steps employers have taken to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace over the last year include:

  • 23% of employers have introduced new tools or investigatory procedures to address sexual harassment complaints
  • 19% of employers have changed the layout of workspaces, such as by making office space more open plan and increasing the size of communal areas
  • 17% of employers have eliminated certain social outings, particularly those involving alcohol

Stephan Swinkels, Managing Partner Europe, at Littler says: “Boards across Europe have been shaken by the explosive viral growth of the #MeToo movement.”

“The research shows how headline-grabbing HR issues are being dealt with differently across Europe. We’re surprised that UK businesses are behind their European peers – either they believe they have a smaller problem concerning sexual harassment or they’re being complacent. It’s an important distinction that we’re taking a closer look at.”

Regarding the most common steps taken by employers, Swinkels adds: “While any preventative or corrective actions taken to address sexual harassment are welcome, companies must also be careful not to create an exclusionary work environment where they’re inadvertently causing an adverse effect on women, their performance and their professional development.”

Gender pay equity top of the HR agenda for employers

43% of employers want to see gender pay gap reporting laws introduced across the EU, with Spain and Italy emerging as the two individual countries that eclipse 50%.

The significant number of employers in favour of additional regulation and reporting requirements shows how important gender pay equity has become. Early adopters include the UK, Belgium and Germany, whilst France is planning to introduce gender pay gap reporting laws in the next two years.

Stephan Swinkels adds: “Properly rewarding and incentivising women is key to getting the most out of a workforce. It’s encouraging to see employers increasingly putting measures in place to level the playing field.”

There are clear parallels between the concerns of European employers and their counterparts in the U.S. Earlier this year, Littler’s Seventh Annual Employer Survey revealed that 36% of employers in the U.S. see gender pay equity as causing a high or very high level of concern, similar to European employers at 37%.

Download Littler’s Executive Employer Survey – Europe 2018

Download the Europe 2018 Survey Infographic

About Littler

Littler is the largest global employment and labour law practice, with more than 1,500 attorneys in 80 offices worldwide. Littler represents management in all aspects of employment and labour law and serves as a single-source solution provider to the global employer community. Consistently recognized in the industry as a leading and innovative law practice, Littler has been litigating, mediating and negotiating some of the most influential employment law cases and labour contracts on record for over 75 years. Littler Global is the collective trade name for an international legal practice, the practising member entities of which are separate and distinct professional firms. 

Research methodology

An anonymised online survey was conducted by independent agency Atomik Research among 800 HR, legal and C-suite professionals in eight European markets. The sample comprised 100 respondents within each market: the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium. The research fieldwork took place between 20th June and 23rd July 2018. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs Market Research Society (MRS)-certified researchers and abides to MRS code.