It’s been well publicized that one of the biggest barriers standing in the way of ridding workplaces of sexual harassment is the fear of retaliation. Now, new research out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Employment Equity titled “Employer Responses to Sexual Harassment” suggests that employees may have good reason to be concerned.
The study, which analyzed over 46,000 harassment claims sent to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state Fair Employment Practices Agencies from 2012 through 2016, found that 65 percent of employees who file sexual-harassment complaints lost their jobs within a year, while 68 percent reported some form of retaliation by their employer.
Of course, the data set being studied here precedes the re-emergence of the #MeToo Movement in 2017. (A piece published in HRE earlier this year surveyed top employment attorneys and asked them what the #MeToo movement can teach HR leaders.)
Don Tomaskovic-Devey, professor of sociology at UMass Amherst, founding director of CEE and a co-author of the study, says his contacts at the EEOC and at the California Fair Employment Practice Commission report that complaints are up in 2017 and 2018. “That suggests to me that employees are feeling empowered, but it doesn’t tell me that employer behavior has changed,” he says.
Were the surge in complaints to be accompanied by a lower number of firings and retaliation, then that would suggest that employers were beginning to change their behavior. “It will be interesting to see if that’s what happens,” he adds.
Of the 27 percent of cases that resulted in a benefit for the plaintiffs, the researchers report, redress was typically unsubstantial. The most common benefit–and the result of 23 percent of total charges that proceed through the agencies’ processed cases–was financial compensation. However, the average settlement of $24,700 (with a median amount of $10,000) is unlikely to make up for the economic cost of job loss.
Sexual harassment complaints, the researchers say, represent only 0.18 percent of those who say they experienced sexual harassment at work. (Based on the General Social Survey percentages multiplied by the U.S. workforce, they estimate that there are 5,117,835 people who believe they have experienced sexual harassment every year.)
The analysis also suggests employers could be doing more to address the issue, with just 12 percent of the total charges leading to managerial agreements to change workplace practices.