In the hours, days, and months after #MeToo went viral in October 2017, state lawmakers started working to reform workplace anti-harassment laws, which the outpouring of stories and experiences had revealed as outdated and ineffective. Many lawmakers were quick to take action because they too were survivors, sharing their own stories alongside millions worldwide.
Now, five years later, 22 states and the District of Columbia have passed a total of more than 70 workplace anti-harassment bills, many with bipartisan support.
But even with these reforms, our workplace protections are still coming up short. Some of the most critical reforms for shifting our ability to prevent and stop workplace harassment, like protections against retaliation, have largely been overlooked. Many workers most marginalized by workplace harassment have been left without full or any legal protections. #MeToo amplified the movement Tarana Burke started to center the voices of Black survivors and others most marginalized by sexual violence, but the policy response has not adequately centered Black women or other women of color, immigrant women, women with disabilities, LGBTQI+ people, or women working in low-paid jobs. In addition, workers in large swaths of the Midwest, South, and Mountain states have seen few, if any, workplace anti-harassment policy reforms since #MeToo went viral.
Robust protections against harassment are needed. Today, the very public backlash in response to momentum in gender and racial justice advocacy efforts is impacting women at work. Abortion bans and restrictions, state laws attacking trans students and prohibiting teaching about race, bans on workplace anti- discrimination and implicit bias trainings, and defamation lawsuits against survivors of sexual violence, for example, all feed gendered and racialized power dynamics at work that increase incidents of harassment. Policy has a key role to play in transforming workplaces, but without lawmakers’ continuing commitment to survivor justice, the immense gains of the last five years risk being rolled back.