There are several state and federal laws in place designed to protect individuals against sexual harassment in the workplace. There are just as many, if not more, that protect people who report instances of wrongdoing against retaliation.
Unfortunately, despite the number or protections in place, reporting sexual harassment can and often does have adverse consequences for the victims. The Muse shares just a few insights that demonstrate this.
Sexual harassment and retaliation claims often go hand-in-hand
According to a UMass study — the findings of which The Muse cites — roughly 5.1 million people experience sexual harassment in the workplace yearly. However, between just 25% and 40% of those incidences ever result in a report with a company HR department, supervisor or union. Less than 0.20% of victims ever file a claim with the EEOC or FEPA.
Why are these numbers so dismal? Additional findings may provide some insight. According to the same UMass study, of the claims the EEOC or FEPA received between 2012 and 2016, 68% also included allegations of retaliation. Nearly as many, at 64%, included claims of job loss. Victims (most of which were women) who did keep their jobs reported instances of ostracization by other employees after coming forward.
Examples of prohibited retaliation
It is clear that retaliation is common following claims of sexual harassment, but when does retaliation cross the line from “mean” to outright illegal? According to the Department on the Status of Women, almost any type of retaliation is illegal. If a person makes a sexual harassment complaint in good faith, his or her employer may not do the following:
- Give a negative performance review/rating
- Ignore the victim
- Give the victim undesirable assignments
- Gossip about the victim
- Sabotage the victim’s workspace, tools or materials
The law considers these types of actions as illegal forms of retaliation and can further subject employers to penalties. Furthermore, employers cannot encourage other employees or supervisors to do any of the above. Persons who have further questions about their rights and employers’ responsibilities should consult with an experienced attorney.