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Posted: October 16, 2017

75 percent of workplace harassment victims who complain face retaliation, study finds

altrendo images/Getty Images/Altrendo

By Fiza Pirani, The Atlanta Journal Constitution

comprehensive study conducted in 2016  by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission uncovered some troubling truths about harassment in the workplace.

» RELATED: Sexual harassment in the workplace: What is it, how to report it and more you should know

In a preface to the report, EEOC co-chairs wrote the number of harassment complaints the team receives every year is still striking 30 years after the U.S. Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment as a form of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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“We present this report with a firm, and confirmed, belief that too many people in too many workplaces find themselves in unacceptably harassing situations when they are simply trying to do their jobs,” the co-chairs wrote.

» RELATED: #MeToo: Women share harrowing accounts of sexual assault, harassment

The EEOC selected a 16-member team from a variety of disciplines and regions to be part of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, to conduct an 18-month study in which they heard from more than 30 witnesses and received numerous public comments.

Here are some of the report’s key findings about workplace harassment: 

It’s still a problem.

Nearly one-third of the 90,000 charges EEOC received in 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment, according to the report.

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It too often goes unreported.

Roughly three out of four victims of harassment spoke to a supervisor or representative about the harassment.

It’s also common, the report found, for those who experience harassment to either ignore and avoid the harasser, downplay the situation, try to forget the harassment or endure it.

“Employees who experience harassment fail to report the harassing behavior or to file a complaint because they fear disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation,” report authors wrote.

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Anywhere between 25-85 percent of women reported sex-based harassment.

Using testimonies and academic articles, analysts dug deeper into the widely divergent numbers.

They found that when asked if they experienced “sexual harassment” without defining the term, 25 percent of women reported they had.

The rate grew to 40 percent when employees were asked about specific unwanted sex-based behaviors.

And when respondents were asked similar questions in surveys using convenience samples, or people who are easy to reach, such as student volunteers, the incidence rate rose to 75 percent, researchers found.

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“Based on this consistent result, researchers have concluded that many individuals do not label certain forms of unwelcome sexually based behaviors – even if they view them as problematic or offensive – as ‘sexual harassment,’” authors wrote.

More men are reporting workplace sexual assault.

According to the EEOC, reports of men experiencing workplace sexual assault have nearly doubled between 1990 and 2009 and now account for 8 to 16 percent of all claims.

» RELATED: Sexual harassment in the workplace: What is it, how to report it and more you should know

Seventy-five percent of harassment victims faced retaliation when they came forward.

The EEOC report noted the results of a 2003 study, which found “75 percent of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.”

Victims often avoid reporting the harassment, because they feel it’s the most “reasonable” course of action, another researcher found.

Indifference or trivialization in the organization, according to the report, can harm the victim “in terms of adverse job repercussions and psychological distress.”

These are just some of the risk factors associated with workplace harassment:

  • Workplaces with lack of diversity in terms of gender, race or ethnicity, age
  • Workplaces with extreme diversity
  • Workplaces with many young workers
  • Workplaces with significant power disparities, such as companies with executives, military member, plant managers
  • Service industries that rely on customer service or client satisfaction
  • Workplaces with monotonous or low-intensity tasks

In addition to being plain wrong, there’s a business case for stopping and preventing harassment.

The EEOC report found there are a multitude of financial costs associated with harassment complaints, such as time and resources dealing with litigation, settlements and damages.

Harassment can also lead to decreased workplace performance and productivity, reputational harm and increased turnover rates.

But the bottom line, according to the report, is: “Employers should care about preventing harassment because it is the right thing to do, and because stopping illegal harassment is required of them.”

You can read the full report at eeoc.gov.


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