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Case Studies + Facts

This information is quoted from the EEOC: Study of Harassment in the Work Force a Report of Co-Chairs Chai R. Feldblum & Victoria A. Lipnic: Executive Summary & Recommendations (June 2016)

EEOC Executive Summary Study

  • Workplace Harassment Remains a Persistent Problem. Almost fully one third of the approximately 90,000 charges received by EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment. This includes, among other things, charges of unlawful harassment on the basis of sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy), race, disability, age, ethnicity/national origin, color, and religion. While there is robust data and academic literature on sex-based harassment, there is very limited data regarding harassment on other protected bases. More research is needed.
  • Workplace Harassment Too Often Goes Unreported. Roughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct. Employees who experience harassment fail to report the harassing behavior or to file a complaint because they fear disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.
  • There Is a Compelling Business Case for Stopping and Preventing Harassment. When employers consider the costs of workplace harassment, they often focus on legal costs, and with good reason. Last year, EEOC alone recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging harassment –and these direct costs are just the tip of the iceberg. Workplace harassment first and foremost comes at a steep cost to those who suffer it, as they experience mental, physical, and economic harm. Beyond that, workplace harassment affects all workers, and its true cost includes decreased productivity, increased turnover, and reputational harm for the company. All of this is a drag on performance – and the bottom-line.
  • It Starts at the Top – Leadership and Accountability Are Critical. Workplace culture has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, in preventing harassment. The importance of leadership cannot be overstated – effective harassment prevention efforts, and workplace culture in which harassment is not tolerated, must start with and involve the highest level of management of the company.
  • Training Must Change. Much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool – it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability. We believe effective training can reduce workplace harassment and recognize that ineffective training can be unhelpful or even counterproductive.
  • New and Different Approaches to Training Should Be Explored
  • We heard of several new models of training that may show promise for harassment training. Workplace “civility training” that does not focus on eliminating unwelcome or offensive behavior based on characteristics protected under employment non-discrimination laws, but rather on promoting respect and civility in the workplace generally, likewise may offer solutions.
  • It’s On Us. Harassment in the workplace will not stop on its own – it’s on all of us to be part of the fight to stop workplace harassment. We cannot be complacent bystanders and expect our workplace cultures to change themselves.
  • Key Statistics Shared

In FY2015, the EEOC received over 28,000 harassment claims for both private and public employers (e.g. government). This is almost a full third of the approximately 90,000 charges of employment discrimination received in 2015.Of the total number of charges received in FY2015 that alleged harassment from employees working for private employers or for state and local government employers, approximately:

  • 45% alleged harassment on the basis of sex,
  • 34% alleged harassment on the basis of race,
  • 19% alleged harassment on the basis of disability,
  • 15% alleged harassment on the basis of age,
  • 13% alleged harassment on the basis of national origin, and
  • 5% alleged harassment on the basis of religion.

Of the total number of complaints filed in FY2015 by federal employees alleging harassment approximately:

  • 44% alleged harassment on the basis of sex
  • 36% alleged harassment on the basis of race,
  • 34% alleged harassment on the basis of disability,
  • 26% alleged harassment on the basis of age,
  • 12% alleged harassment on the basis of national origin, and
  • 5% alleged harassment on the basis of religion

Conversely, the number is presumably under-inclusive because approximately 90% of individuals who say they have experienced harassment never take formal action against the harassment, such as filing a charge or a complaint.

  • In terms of filing a formal complaint, the percentages tend to be quite low. Studies have found that 6% to 13% of individuals who experience harassment file a formal complaint. That means, on average, anywhere from 87% to 94% of individuals did not file a formal complaint.
  • Employees who experience harassment fail to report the behavior or to file a complaint because they anticipate and fear a number of reactions-disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, receipt of blame for causing the offending actions; social retaliation (including humiliation and ostracism); and professional retaliation, such as damage to their career and reputation.
  • The fears that stop most employees from reporting harassment are well founded. One 2003 Study found that 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.
  • Other studies have found that sexual harassment reporting is often followed by organizational indifference or trivialization of the harassment complaint as well as reprisals against the victim.
  • Such responses understandably harm the victim in terms of adverse job repercussions and psychological distress. These findings raise serios concerns.
  • Most of the surveys of sex-based harassment at work have focused on harassment experienced by women.

One exception has been the surveys conducted by the Merit Systems Protection Board of federal employees in 1980, 1987, and 1994. When respondents were asked whether they had experienced unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, 42% of women and 15% of men responded in the affirmative in 1981; as did 42% of women and 14% of men in 1988; and 44% of women and 19% of men in 1994.

The Case of the “Superstar” Harasser

Finally, an often competing economic consideration bears discussion. Employers may find themselves in a position where the harasser is a workplace “superstar.”112 By superstar, think of the high-earning trader at an investment bank, the law firm partner who brings in lucrative clients, or the renowned professor or surgeon.113 Some of these individuals, as with any employee, may be as likely to engage in harassment as others. Often, however, superstars are privileged with higher income, better accommodations, and different expectations.114 That privilege can lead to a self-view that they are above the rules, which can foster mistreatment.115 Psychologists have detailed how power can make an individual feel uninhibited and thus more likely to engage in inappropriate behaviors.116 In short, superstar status can be a breeding ground for harassment.

When the superstar misbehaves, employers may perceive themselves in a quandary. They may be tempted to ignore the misconduct because, the thinking goes, losing the superstar would be too costly. They may wager that the likelihood or cost of a complaint of misbehavior is relatively low and outweighed by the superstar’s productivity. Some employers may even use this type of rationale to cover or retaliate for a harasser.

Employers should avoid the trap of binary thinking that weighs the productivity of a harasser solely against the costs of his or her being reported. As a recent Harvard Business School study found, the profit consequences of so-called “toxic workers” – specifically including those who are “top performers” – is a net negative.117 Analyzing data on 11 global companies and 58,542 hourly workers, the researchers found that roughly one in 20 workers was fired for egregious company policy violations, such as sexual harassment.118 Avoiding these toxic workers, they found, can save a company more than twice as much as the increased output generated by a top performer.119 As a result, the study urged employers to “consider toxic and productivity outcomes together rather than relying on productivity alone as the criterion of a good hire.”120 No matter who the harasser is, the negative effects of harassment can cause serious damage to a business. Indeed, the reputational costs alone can have serious consequences, particularly where it is revealed that managers for years “looked the other way” at a so-called “superstar” harasser.121

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