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Burden of Workplace Sexual Harassment Goes Beyond the Victim

As many as eight in 10 women experience sexual harassment in their lifetimes. (mpplc/Twenty20)
As many as eight in 10 women experience sexual harassment in their lifetimes. (mpplc/Twenty20)
October 31, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS - The global #MeToo movement has put a spotlight on sexual harassment and assault, and a new report calculates the economic impacts in the workplace.

Report co-author Elyse Shaw, senior research associate with the Institute for Women's Policy Research, said jarassment places a significant burden on companies, which end up with large legal bills. She said it's also a big reason women earn pennies on the dollar compared with their male counterparts.

"Their wages being decreased, if they have to change careers or change jobs due to sexual harassment that they experience, it can have a big impact on women," she said. "But it's also costly to employers. With turnover costs and all of these other factors, it's a burden on both employers and the women who are working for them."

Shaw said harassment also leads to increased absences, low morale and lost productivity. While it's estimated that just 10 percent of incidents are formally reported, Shaw said as many as eight in 10 women experience sexual harassment in their lifetimes. Victims of repeated harassment are at higher risk for clinical depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and long-term physical health problems.

The report found that undocumented workers, people who work in isolation and women who rely on tips - especially restaurant workers paid below the regular minimum wage - are at increased risk for harassment. Shaw pointed to the "Hands Off, Pants On" initiative by Chicago's hospitality workers as one way people have organized to demand protections.

"Unions actually have a huge role to play," she said, "to institute their own policies and procedures, to kind of augment the systems that may be in place in the workplace, or to fill in the gaps that might be missing for those workers on different jobs."

The report's recommendations included surveying employees to find out if harassment is a problem and adopting comprehensive anti-harassment policies, with multiple ways for workers to report violations. Reporting systems should be tested to make sure they're working, it said, and discipline for perpetrators should be prompt and consistent.

The report is online at iwpr.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN