Sexual harassment has become a fact of the modern workplace—something that society laments and regrets, but that rarely shocks the conscience when it comes to light. In fact, both the least and most surprising aspect of workplace sexual harassment is the number of individuals who are aware of it occurring. For every Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Louis C.K., there have been countless observers who knew about their depravity and who did nothing to stop their behavior. In this way, one obvious approach for reducing harassment at work seems clearly to involve mobilizing these bystanders—encouraging those who witness this misconduct to come forward and report the wrongdoing. Yet for a variety of reasons, bystanders often (quite rationally) choose to remain silent. This Article suggests a novel approach to overcome the forces that inhibit bystanders from speaking out. In the context of financial crimes, the law has successfully encouraged bystander reporting by applying a bounty system that provides significant financial rewards to those who report the wrongdoing that they observe. Indeed, those who have observed financial wrongdoing have reaped millions of dollars in rewards, presumably overcoming whatever reluctance they once may have felt about disclosing the misdeeds of colleagues and associates. This Article suggests applying a similar bounty system to workplace sexual harassment; it proposes awarding bystanders a piece of the recovery when their reports of observed workplace sexual harassment culminate into successful lawsuits against the perpetrators of this misconduct. Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing—harassment or otherwise—comes rife with countless concerns for those who consider speaking out. Giving such bystanders a financial incentive to come forward has worked in other contexts to override this reluctance. Perhaps the same can be true for those who observe sexual harassment at work, providing a much-needed step towards reducing this scourge in the workplace.
Using a “Bystander Bounty” to Encourage the Reporting of Workplace Sexual Harassment,
SMU L. Rev.