The Visible and Invisible Costs of Sexual Harassment in Work
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In the past few years, the #MeToo movement has brought the cases of sexual harassment, assault at work, and the aftermath it has on a woman's life to the eye of the public. Sadly, sexual harassment in the workplace is not something incredibly uncommon; studies estimate that anywhere from "almost a quarter to more than eight in ten women" experience it at some point in their life (Feldblum and Lipnic 2016). Both sexual harassment and assault at work have severe consequences for not only the employer, but the victim them self.

1. Invisible costs of harassment at work.

The mental and physical toll.

It doesn't take research to prove that victims of sexual harassment can develop mental health issues such as depression and PTSD that can take years to overcome, or in a lot of cases, become permanent. Even if the degree of assault is not as severe, harassment can have major effects on the way people preform at work and function mentally. In addition to the mental health effects, research has proven that the risks of developing long-term physical health problems can also be caused by repeated gender-based harassment (Schneider, Tomaka, and Palacios 2001). Finally, any form of harassment can lead to the increase of on-the-job accidents, for this leaves workers distracted and unable to preform to the best of their ability. (Sugerman 2018).

Decreased opportunities for on-the-job learning and growth as an employee.

In most jobs, in order to become a skilled worker and earn promotions, one must go through on-the-job learning and receive guidance from more experienced workers. Harassment at work can limit women's access to these learning opportunities, therefore leaving them at a disadvantage and behind all of their fellow colleagues (Hegewisch, Deitch, and Murphy 2011; Sugerman 2018). In fields such as sciences, engineering, and medicine, a recent study found that sexual abuse at work leads women to give up promotion opportunities, decline major research projects, and refuse leadership opportunities to avoid the perpetrator (National Academy of Sciences 2018).

A force in job change, abandonment of a successful career, and even unemployment.

Many who experience sexual harassment also face the concern of unemployment. These women leave their job for recovery and mental health purposes before looking for a new job; in many cases, this can leave a women unemployed for months, or even years, on end (The Nation 2018). A recent study finds a strong tie between assault at work and changes in employment: an astonishing eight in ten women who experienced sexual harassment began their new job within two years of their harassment. Along with this, the same study found that these women were experiencing a decent amount of financial stress as a result of their job change, even if the women found a job shortly after leaving their previous one (McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone 2017). Some women even decide to leave their field entirely, an even more tragic consequence of harassment at work (National Academy of Sciences 2018).

2. Visible costs of harassment at work.

Cost of lawyers and the court.

Extreme cases of sexual harassment emphasize the potential legitimate expenses of enduring assault for employers (Fortune 2017). Normally, the measure of financial payouts in settlements is kept on-lock, making it hard to accurately measure the gross legal costs linked to harassment. The EEOC, which releases all of the financial agreements it reaches in the interest of the workers, in FY 2017 picked up $46.3 million in fiscal advantages for employees tied to inappropriate behavior charges (U.S. EEOC 2018). It is likely that these costs significantly underrate the true payouts made by businesses in light of inappropriate behavior charges because the EEOC expedites only a few out of all of the charges it gets (Rutherglen 2015).

• Employee turnover.

Research proves that sexual harassment in the workplace can cause a rise in employee turnover. In fact, the costs related to employee turnover make up the largest economic expense of sexual harassment, considerably higher than costs related to litigation (Merken and Shah 2014). Finding employees to fill in for the people who have left their job is not easy; multiple case studies of the cost of employee turnover approximated average costs of 16 to 20 percent of an employee's yearly salary, rising to up to 213 percent of their salary for more experienced and professional workers (Boushey and Glynn 2012).

A rise in the absence of employees at work.

An study in The 2010 National Health Interview Survey reported that those who vocalized that they have been harassed or abused at work in the year prior were 1.7 times more likely to miss work for at least two weeks opposed to those who had not (Khubchandani, and Price 2015). A 2016 S. Merit Systems Protection Board study (2018) discovered that nearly one in six employees who were victim to sexual harassment called-in for sickness or annual leave following their harassment.


Boushey, Heather, and Sarah Jane Glynn. 2012. "There Are Significant Business Costs to Replacing Employees." Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. <>

Feldblum, Chai and Victoria Lipnic. 2016. EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, Report of Co-Chairs Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic. <>

Fortune. (May 11, 2017). "Fox News Has Spent $45 Million on Sexual Harassment Settlements Since Mid-2016." Madeleine Faber. <>

Hegewisch, Ariane, Cynthia Deitch, and Evelyn Murphy. 2011. "Sexual Harassment against Female Immigrant Workers and EEOC v. DeCoster." In Ending Sex and Race Discrimination in the Workplace: Legal Interventions that Push the Envelope. Washington, DC: Institute for Women's Policy Research <>

Khubchandani, Jagdish and James H. Price. 2015. "Workplace Harassment and Morbidity Among US Adults: Results from the National Health Interview Survey" Journal of Community Health 40(3): 555-563.

Merkin, Rebecca S., and Muhammad Kamal Shah. 2014. "The Impact of Sexual Harassment on Job Satisfaction, Turnover Intentions, and Absenteeism: Findings from Pakistan Compared to the United States." SpringerPlus.

National Academy of Sciences. 2018. Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.<>

Rutherglen, George. 2015. "Private Rights and Private Actions: The Legacy of Civil Rights in the Enforcement of Title VII." Boston University Law Review (95:733).>

Schneider, Kimberly T., Joe Tomaka, and Rebecca Palacios. 2001. "Women's Cognitive, Affective, and Physiological Reactions to a Male Coworker's Sexist Behavior." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 31(10): 1995–2018.

Sugerman, Lauren. 2018. "#MeToo in Traditionally Male-Dominated Occupations: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment." Chicago: Chicago Women in the Trades. <>

The Nation. (February 7, 2018). "When Harassment Is the Price of a Job." Bryce Covert. <>

McLaughlin, Heather, Christopher Uggen, and Amy Blackstone. 2017. "The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women." Gender & Society 31(3): 333–58.

2018. "Charges Alleging Sex-Based Harassment (Charges Filed with EEOC)." <>

2018. "Update on Sexual Harassment in the Federal Workplace." Washington, DC: U.S. Merits System Protection Board. <>

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