Workplace Harassment Takes Costly Toll on Employers and Employees, EEOC Finds

February 28, 2017

Despite 30 years of prevention efforts, workplace harassment continues to be a significant problem, taking an emotional toll on employees and costing employers millions. In fiscal year 2015, employees working for private or state and local government entities filed approximately 28,000 harassment charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the EEOC resolved 5,518 administrative harassment charges in favor of employees, costing employers $125.5 million. Figures cited do not include employers’ indirect costs such as decreased productivity, higher employee turnover, and potential reputational damage.

These data, and employer recommendations, are cited in a June 2016 report from the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The report culminated an 18-month project by the Task Force to study workplace harassment based on sex, age, race, disability, national origin, and religion.

Even more striking than the data on cases filed and resolved were the findings that nearly 90 percent of employees who experience harassment never take any formal action, and that nearly 70 percent of harassed employees do not even bring incidents to the attention of supervisors, managers, or union representatives. 

Workplace Risk Factors

The Task Force identified workplace risk factors contributing to harassment that institutions should address:

  • Lack of employee diversity
  • Employees who do not conform to societal norms
  • Significant cultural or language differences between workers
  • A high number of younger workers or those new to the workforce
  • High value employees such as business rainmakers
  • Significant power imbalances between groups of workers
  • Reliance on customer service as a success metric
  • Work hours filled primarily with monotonous tasks
  • Isolated work areas
  • Tolerance of alcohol consumption on work premises
  • Decentralized work locations

Emphasis on Prevention

The Task Force report emphasizes prevention efforts and urges employers to take harassment seriously and support significant prevention training for all employees. They should implement robust anti-harassment policies and effective reporting systems and commit to conducting high-quality, thorough investigations into all allegations. Furthermore, the EEOC encourages employers to hold individuals accountable and discipline them appropriately with meaningful corrective actions.

Employers should focus on training first-line managers and supervisors to identify harassment and intervene quickly, the EEOC recommends. Live, interactive training should be conducted by qualified trainers. Employers should also consider implementing both workplace civility and bystander intervention training to supplement traditional prevention efforts and encourage a culture that prohibits workplace harassment.