There have been a few common themes in the 2017 news cycle. In recent weeks, stories about sexual harassment in Hollywood have sparked larger conversations about harassment in the workplace. It may be in the news right now, but it’s been a significant problem for a long time.
The truth is in the numbers
Of roughly 90,000 reports filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2015, roughly one-third were harassment complaints. Of those, 45 percent were sexual harassment (with racial harassment the second most frequent experience). The EEOC adds that the numbers are likely higher in real life, because most harassment complaints combine multiple classifications. For example, an employee’s complaint about racial harassment is likely to include elements of sexual harassment as well.
The report, issued in June 2016, notes that one-quarter of women report experiencing sexual harassment directly and up to 40 percent of women admit exposure to similar situations when the scenario is described to them without using legal terminology.
A frequent experience
Hawaii law defines sexual harassment as “unwanted sexual advances or other unwanted or offensive visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” This includes verbal and visual behavior as well touching, making threats or promising rewards for sexual acts.
As the numbers show, harassment is common for women. Comparing the 40 percent number to the 25 percent, it suggests that harassment is so frequent that many don’t even think about it when it happens.
Harassment has a psychological effect on victims, growing over time. There are many documented side effects, including depression, difficulty sleeping, headaches and more. Combined with a fear of retaliation, the stress compounds. While women fear that they’ll be fired or it will hurt their career to speak up, EEOC complaints are taken seriously. The law protects workers who file complaints.
Anyone in a hostile workplace should consult with an experienced employment attorney to discuss if an EEOC complaint is the right approach for you or if another legal avenue will help to resolve your situation.