Over a year has passed since MeToo started trending and subsequently triggered a global outpouring. In the aftermath, organizations throughout Asia have reported increased numbers of complaints about sexual misconduct in the workplace. Along with this has come more work for employment lawyers.
Employment lawyer Adam Hugill of Hong Kong boutique firm Hugill&Ip, has noticed employees grow “much more emboldened then they have been previously to raise complaints and to make their voices heard .”
“I think the MeToo movement has made people much more willing to stand up and fight for their rights,” he says.
Helen Colquhoun, head of DLA Piper’s Hong Kong employment practice, remarks there has been “a significant shift” in approach and attitude towards complaints since the movement. She describes MeToo as responsible for changing the mindset of many employers who now see the advantages of encouraging their employees to raise complaints internally at an early stage. This gives employers “meaningful opportunity to investigate, respond to and rectify concerns rather than hearing about them for the first time through social media reports or court filings,” she explains.
While in the past, some employers have attempted to deal with complaints “discreetly and through negotiated exit; typically, through departure of the complainant rather than the alleged harasser,” Colquhoun says this is no longer the case. Instead, businesses are generally more focused on targeting and challenging inappropriate behaviors. “Settlement agreements are no longer automatically seen as the most desirable outcome,” she says.
In December, multiple outlets reported that Wall Street had largely responded to MeToo by avoiding female employees. Meanwhile, a glance at local media in Asia illustrates that, by some, the movement has been met with cynicism, anger and disbelief.
From the employer’s perspective, Hugill says MeToo is “viewed with quite a lot of suspicion”. While personally, he considers the movement as “generally very positive”, he warns “it does have the ability to be used in a disingenuous way by someone who wants to really take advantage of the fact that organizations are very sensitive to this, in order to really maximize a payout or some of the benefits.”
Colquhoun adds that DLA Piper has also assisted with complaints brought by alleged harassers “who argue that knee-jerk investigations have breached their own rights”.
Since MeToo, other social media rooted protests have gained heightened media coverage. Some of these focus on discrimination within certain industries, while others hope to shine a light on other types of discrimination.