The Costs of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Workplace sexual harassment describes any type of unwanted sexual advances or activities with someone at work without that person’s consent. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 11,497 workplace sexual harassment claims were filed in the U.S. in 2020.

Sexual harassment does not only have ramifications for the victim; it comes with significant costs for both employees and businesses.

Costs to Employees

Employees who face sexual harassment directly or indirectly can suffer many economic and noneconomic losses. Having to work in a hostile environment can come with daily stress, frustration and fear. Workplace sexual harassment can also force a victim to take time off of work, interfering with his or her career.

Sexual harassment and discrimination can have many costs for a victim, including:

  • Wages from missing work or quitting a job
  • Unemployment
  • The cost of searching for a new job
  • Lost opportunity to advance to a higher-paying career
  • Reduced job opportunities
  • Lost employment benefits
  • Lost tips, bonuses and special projects
  • Mental and emotional health problems
  • Lost peace of mind
  • Medical and therapy costs
  • Money spent in legal fees

The overall financial cost for an employee dealing with sexual harassment at work can equal thousands of dollars. The victim could lose his or her economic security and advancement in his or her career. Furthermore, the mental and physical tolls that sexual harassment can take on a victim are immeasurable.

Costs to Companies

Workplace sexual harassment can have substantial costs for companies, as well. From incidents of harassment disrupting a team and reducing workplace productivity to lawsuits going public and hurting the business’s reputation, sexual harassment in a workplace can be a corporate nightmare.

Although many business owners make the mistake of thinking sexual harassment claims are one-offs, rare or not a problem for the company on a larger scale, this issue can come with significant long-term costs:

  • Lost employee productivity
  • Costs of retraining new employees after someone quits (employee turnover)
  • Money spent settling sexual harassment claims or going to trial
  • Time and energy spent dealing with claims
  • Damage to the company’s public reputation
  • Lost profitability and reduced stock market performance
  • The costs of future bad behavior by staff members

It is in a company’s best interests to be proactive in preventing sexual harassment – not only for the protection of its employees, but for its bottom line and future in the market.

Preventing Sexual Harassment

Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace requires those in charge to set the tone for the rest of the company. It is important for business owners and CEOs to make sexual harassment awareness and prevention priorities in the workplace. There should be flyers posted that describe inappropriate vs. appropriate employee interactions, for example, and surveys to gauge company culture and climate.

A company should also train all middle-management employees to prevent, detect and report sexual harassment. Discipline against perpetrators should be prompt, consistent and appropriate according to the severity of the offense. Establishing a workplace culture that tolerates or encourages any form of sexual harassment or discrimination can lead to serious issues down the road for a business. It is important to be direct, strict and clear about the company’s anti-sexual harassment stance.

Reporting Sexual Harassment

As an employee in California, you should know exactly when and how to report sexual harassment for your own safety as well as the overall security of your workplace. If your employer has not made sexual harassment reporting procedures known, ask him or her what to do. Typically, you will need to report the sexual harassment incident to the company’s human resources department.

The human resources officer should take your allegation seriously and immediately launch an investigation. If the company fails to remedy the issue in a timely and appropriate manner, you can file a claim with the EEOC. The EEOC will investigate and may visit your workplace in person. Then, the EEOC will schedule mediation between you (and your sexual harassment attorney, if desired) and your employer. If mediation still does not remedy the issue or reimburse you for losses, the EEOC will give you permission to file a lawsuit.