Sexual harassment in the workplace may be on the decline, but it is still an ongoing risk to the safety of your employees and your business. The implications of sexual harassment in the workplace can have a far-reaching impact on your company’s bottom line, undermine employee morale, and ruin your organization’s reputation among consumers. What follows is exactly how sexual harassment affects the workplace.
Facts About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
In 2015 alone, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received over 6,800 claims of sexual harassment, resulting in 1,829 charges and $46 million in direct settlements. And there are 20 lawsuits that are still in litigation.
A study of 50 sexual harassment cases in Chicago that were settled before magistrate judges resulted in an average $53,000 settlement. However, these costs can increase dramatically if the case goes to trial. A study of 232 sexual harassment cases where the plaintiff won the case recorded an average payout of more than $217,000.
Of course, these figures don’t reflect any of the associated legal costs. So even those cases that result in no settlement to the plaintiff can still cost your business tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Usually, though, the cost is much more than financial. Let’s explore more extensively about how sexual harassment affects the workplace.
According to research conducted at Cleveland State University, between 90 and 95 percent of women who have been sexually harassed experience debilitating stress reactions, including anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep disorders, lowered self-esteem, and nausea. And one study found that the trauma and its fallout could even rise to the level of a diagnosable major depressive disorder (MDD) or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When an employee has experienced an incident of sexual harassment, or worse a steady campaign of harassment, their output will be affected. Research closely associates sexual harassment with job dissatisfaction and disengagement. Other ways sexual harassment affects the workplace are tardiness, absenteeism, project neglect, and employee distraction.
One study of 262 women who had reported being harassed found that nearly 75 percent of them felt that the effects of the harassment undermined their job performance. In particular, these women cited decreased motivation to work and an inability to concentrate on their work due to the presence of sexual innuendos.
Psychological Effects of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Research suggests that employees that observe harassment in the workplace were more likely to experience lower psychological and physical well-being. The driving factors of this mental and physical toll were empathy for the victim, concerns about a hostile workplace, and even fears of becoming the next target of harassment.
Employees are less likely to stay in a toxic environment, and research conducted by Rebecca Merkin and Muhammad Shah suggests that employee turnover is one of the largest costs associated with sexual harassment.
Another aspect of how sexual harassment affects the workplace is replacing those leaving staff members can prove equally problematic. A 2008 study found that employees were less likely to work for a company with perceived sexual harassment. And an earlier survey uncovered that 58 percent of respondents who witnessed “unfairness” in the workplace in the last year would “to some degree” discourage potential employees from joining the company.
Research shows that when consumers witness or are made aware of “incivility” directed at an employee within the workplace, these potential customers can develop “rapid, negative generalizations” which will make them “less likely to repurchase from the firm.” The survey also found that employees that have experienced an “unfair” workplace will even actively discourage potential customers from purchasing products or services from their employer.
What Can You Do?
One of the principal means of combating and preventing workplace harassment is an effective training program. Sexual harassment claims reported to the EEOC peaked in 1997, and the next year, two Supreme Court rulings established a clear precedent that companies could reduce their risk of liability by establishing sexual harassment training and reporting policies. In response, training became much more commonplace, and related claims dropped steadily over the next several years with experts attributing at least some of this decline to the success of training efforts.
Further, this past summer, the EEOC released a study on harassment in the workplace that stated: “training is an essential component of an anti-harassment effort.” The report also advocated coupling these training efforts with a holistic program that incorporates leadership involvement and accountability.
The effects of sexual harassment in the workplace and associated litigation can present a clear, and present danger to your business. By being proactive, instituting sound policy and offering comprehensive training, you can reduce the likelihood of workplace sexual harassment even occurring.