The Cost of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

October 24, 2021

Sexual harassment in the workplace is uninvited sexual advances or demands for sexual favors and other verbal or physical behaviors of a sexual nature. The abuser can be of the same sex, another employee, your manager, or your boss.

Recently, sexual harassment gained greater acknowledgment on social media, the news, and the public for being far more widespread than many understood. The credit for the rise in recent awareness is thanks to a movement encouraging many survivors to step forward.

The #MeToo Movement and a brief history of sexual harassment

The #MeToo movement was launched in 2006 by American activist Tarana Burke. Burke bravely commenced a campaign to help other women step forward and speak up against abusers. However, the movement gained greater awareness in 2017 when many young women began to speak out against abuser Harvey Weinstein. It was at this moment that the "metoo" hashtag started going viral. However, sexual harassment has been recognized for several decades (since 1980 by the Supreme Court). Before then, the unwanted severe, pervasive and traumatizing acts (of sexual harassment) existed long before 1980. Still, they hadn't received a title until the term "sexual harassment" was coined in 1975.

Sexual harassment reporting is up

The visibility of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and the personal toll on the lives of survivors are at unprecedented levels.

"Nationally, 81% of women and 43% of men report some form of sexual harassment and assault in their lifetime." With more awareness, more people began coming forward and reporting harassment.

Unfortunately, sexual harassment in the workplace and domestic abuse at home have spiked since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.  It's necessary to recognize the costs survivors of sexual harassment bear as it affects many aspects of life (personally, mentally, emotionally, professionally) and is, unfortunately, widespread.

A breakdown of costs and damages caused by sexual harassment

Financial hardships stemming from harassment can mean reduced earnings due to fewer shifts, missed promotions and opportunities, and even as extreme as job loss. Survivors forced to leave their jobs may also experience loss of health, vision, and dental insurance. Some sexual harassment cases result in loss of retirement benefits. Other expenses can arise due to forced career changes.

Analysis has found that the trauma harassment survivors face can lead to astronomically increased medical fees for many. After a hiatus, training costs to reenter the workforce can add up. These losses due to experiencing sexual harassment at work can rack up to over a million dollars per lifetime.

The two main types of sexual harassment

Federal and state laws recognize two overall kinds of sexual harassment — "quid pro quo" and "hostile work environment."

Quid pro quo”

 Quid pro quo (in Latin) means "this for that." It transpires when someone conditions hiring you, your continued employment, a promotion, or earnings based on accepting sexual advances or any other sort of sexual behavior. Quid pro quo harassment can be presented as an offer or even a threat and often puts the person in uncomfortable or dangerous situations. An individual incident can create liability for damages.

"Hostile work environment"

A hostile work environment is a form of sexual harassment that occurs when the offending behaviors are extensive and severe. They alter your employment conditions, interfere with productivity, or produce a traumatic and intimidating workspace.

You may be suffering from a "hostile work environment" even if the behavior wasn't principally directed at you but rather occurring between two other employees in front of you (during your shift) or any employee and a higher-up. Even sexually explicit "jokes," told in the workplace can lead to hostile work environments. An employer who comments on the appearance of their employees inappropriately can affect confidence, body image, mental well-being.

PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome) can result from either form of sexual harassment and can be very expensive to treat (and challenging to live with).

What to do if it's happening to you

Know although your circumstances are unique to you that you are not alone. If you search #metoo, you will discover millions of accounts and endless courage from brave survivors like you who decided to take the first step at healing and surviving as well as receiving compensatory damages.

Compensatory damages pay for the economic or financial harm and hardships you suffered due to sexual harassment. Many forms of damages exist that you have the right to go after, such as emotional distress damages that offer compensation for any emotional trauma you may have suffered due to sexual harassment. Some federal laws have caps or maximum amounts. However, no cap exists for the amount of emotional distress and punitive damages. The payment can vary depending on the facts related to your unique case. In general, sufferers can receive significant emotional distress amounts in the state of California.

It's essential to know your legal rights and options after experiencing sexual harassment. Seeking the justice and damages you have a right to can seem overwhelming; therefore, contacting an experienced sexual harassment attorney is wise and can help alleviate some of the anxieties and stress associated with your case.

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