How to Stop Harassment: Professional Construction of Legal Compliance in Organizations

Dobbin, Frank, and Erin Kelly. “How to Stop Harassment: The Professional Construction of Legal Compliance in Organizations”. American Journal of Sociology, 112(4):pp. 1203-43, 2007

52 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2013

See all articles by Frank Dobbin

Frank Dobbin

Harvard University - Department of Sociology

Erin Kelly

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Date Written: 2007

Abstract

Between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s, American employers adopted sexual harassment grievance procedures and anti-harassment training in droves even though legislation did not require these programs and the courts had not unequivocally vetted them. Where did these strategies come from and how did they become so common? Personnel experts hawked harassment grievance procedures and training programs, implements from the personnel tool-kit. Lawyers advised case-by-case consultation, and some counseled that grievance procedures could increase legal risk. Our analysis highlights the increasing importance of executives (versus state officials) in defining professional jurisdiction, and the ways in which management’s risk aversion and belief in bureaucracy shapes turf battles among the professions. Executives proved susceptible to personnel’s arguments that bureaucratic procedures could reduce legal risk. With each legal landmark signaling heightened risk, more employers adopted the grievance procedures first advocated by personnel despite negative reviews from lawyers. Employers who consulted personnel experts were more likely to install grievance procedures and training; those who consulted lawyers were less likely to install procedures. Our findings, that executives respond to apparent risk and favor routinized remedies, hold implications for other managerial and professional groups.

Suggested Citation

Dobbin, Frank and Kelly, Erin, How to Stop Harassment: Professional Construction of Legal Compliance in Organizations (2007). Dobbin, Frank, and Erin Kelly. “How to Stop Harassment: The Professional Construction of Legal Compliance in Organizations”. American Journal of Sociology, 112(4):pp. 1203-43, 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2281992

Frank Dobbin (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Sociology ( email )

33 Kirkland Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Erin Kelly

Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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