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Knowing Right From Wrong, From Hugs to Inappropriate Behavior: The International Impact of the #MeToo Movement

Many of us have found the descriptions of the behaviors exposed during the #MeToo movement to be a truly troubling comment on U.S. workplaces. At the same time, we are dealing with questions about where to draw, and how to define, the line between appropriate and inappropriate work behaviors and what the proper reaction should be when that line has been crossed. For those of you in the U.S. who struggled with these questions, imagine trying to apply these rules to international workplaces.

Obviously, the behavior in which some executives have apparently engaged, as reported in the press, would certainly not be appropriate in any country. However, there is a question as to whether the whole spectrum of actions that the #MeToo movement in the U.S. has condemned would fall within the same spectrum in other countries.

Let me give you an example. Recently, a friend from Mexico wrote and signed off with the common phrase of “Abrazo fuerte desde Mexico.” Roughly translated, my friend was sending hugs from Mexico. Hugging in many cultures is a normal greeting, as is kissing on the cheek. In many of these cultures, greeting people with hugs or kisses are not gender specific and apply regardless of the sex of the two individuals greeting one another. In other countries, such touching between men and women would be clearly inappropriate.

Continuing to gather knowledge of the evolving legal landscape (and cultural consensus) regarding the scope of the #MeToo movement and international matters should be on the to do list of every legal counsel or HR manager of an international business. Luckily, we will soon host here at Vinson & Elkins a panel discussion on this topic. On January 31, at the Vinson & Elkins offices in Houston, we will hear from a female energy executive and board member, a consultant who once worked in the oilfields in Africa, a University of Texas law professor with international experience, and a lawyer who trains managers of international businesses. You can find more details and registration information here.

We feel that the #MeToo movement will continue to have a big impact on U.S. workplaces in 2019. We also anticipate that the international impact will grow. Now is the time to become as informed on these issues as possible.

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This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.