Effects of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Posted On: January 18, 2018
workplace sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is not just a little locker-room talk, a compliment, “innocent” flirting, or an invitation to share a cup of coffee. Workplace harassment is a discriminatory pattern of behavior that creates a hostile work environment based on a protected class. It may involve verbal abuse, abuse of power, sexual quid pro quo, and assault such as unwanted groping. Harassment in the workplace has negative effects on all workers, including decreased performance, low morale, and increased turnover.

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What is Sexual Harassment?

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates several federal and state laws. Sexual harassment is persistent, unwanted sexual advances, verbal abuse, and/or demands for sexual favors. Behavior becomes illegal when enduring harassment as a condition of continued employment and creates a hostile or intimidating environment. If an employer has more than a handful of employees, it’s likely harassment will be a problem. There were 12,860 charges filed with the EEOC alleging sex-based harassment in 2016. One in three women face harassment in the workplace, yet 70 percent of women say they have never reported it.

What are the Effects of Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment can affect everyone because it creates an environment that makes it harder for employees to succeed. The possible effects of sexual harassment in the workplace include Emotional and Physical Issues, Professional and Financial Problems, Decreased Company Productivity, and, Lawsuits.

Emotional and Physical Issues

Victims of sexual harassment often suffer emotional and psychological harm, including stress, depression, and anxiety. They often experience decreased confidence and self-esteem. Physical health problems, such as loss of sleep and appetite, weight fluctuations, nausea, and headaches, may arise.

Professional and Financial Problems

Sexual harassment can also wreak havoc on a victim’s job performance and career trajectory. Fear and decreased confidence can cause some people to withdraw from the workplace and disengage from co-workers. They are more likely to be tardy, absent, distracted, and neglect duties. Suppose victims of sexual harassment report the harassment. In that case, they may suffer advancement setbacks such as being passed over for promotions, being left out of key meetings, retaliation, and being labeled troublemakers. Financial problems like lost wages and unpaid leave are also possible.

Decreased Company Productivity

Sexual harassment is also damaging to an organization. When a workplace is infected with discrimination and harassment, everyone suffers. The hostility created by harassment causes absenteeism, low morale, gossip, animosity, stress, and anxiety among staff. Low productivity is more common in environments with high rates of sexual harassment. Victims and witnesses of sexual harassment are more likely to quit, leading to high employee turnover and increased hiring and training costs. A toxic environment will also make recruiting top talent more difficult.

Lawsuits and Reputation

A company’s failure to adequately prevent and handle sexual harassment can result in expensive lawsuits. In the past decade, we have seen some eye-popping jury awards in sexual harassment cases.  A jury awarded plaintiffs $17.4 million in a case filed by the EEOC involving rape and sexual harassment by three male supervisors at a Florida packing plant. And $18 million was awarded in a case against a New York Global Group CEO for retaliation against his former employee after she refused his advances. A highly publicized case of sexual harassment can also damage a company’s reputation, resulting in lost business.

What are Anti-Harassment Training Programs?

Employers must institute anti-harassment programs that contribute to a welcoming culture where everyone feels they are valuable team members and attract talented job applicants. A company harassment policy should:

  • Define harassment and give examples.
  • State that harassment is not tolerated.
  • Explain the harassment reporting system with a designated HR person for reporting claims.
  • Communicate the disciplinary consequences of harassment.
  • Outline the investigation and remediation process.
  • State that retaliation against employees reporting harassment is prohibited.

Employers must hold employees, and themselves, to high standards. Everyone deserves a workplace free from harmful harassment, and all employees should be expected to behave like professional adults while on the job. Not only could workplace harassment lead to expensive lawsuits, but it also creates a toxic culture that cripples team cohesion and harms productivity.

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