What Sexual Harassment is Costing Accusers

Nearly two-thirds of employees who report sexual harassment also report employer retaliation.
By: | December 21, 2018 • 2 min read
Close-up Of Sexual Harassment Complaint Form With Pen At Desk

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.