Group Attempts to Quantify High Cost of Sexual Harassment

Uncomfortable Businesswoman Looks Away from Colleague Who Has His Hand on Her Shoulder

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Everyone knows the emotional toll sexual harassment can have on survivors, but the financial toll has been difficult to measure. A report released Wednesday by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research attempts to do just that.

Based on interviews with 16 survivors from industries ranging from technology to fast food, the Institute’s “Paying Today and Tomorrow” report found that the lifetime costs of workplace sexual harassment and retaliation were particularly high for those in well-paid, male-dominated industries like construction, with one woman’s estimated lifetime costs pegged at more than $1.3 million. Even in lower-wage service jobs, costs could tally more than $125,500 over a lifetime.

The #metoo hashtag went viral in 2017 and spurred people to begin openly discussing sexual harassment, which has long been pervasive in the workplace. Indeed, 25% of all women are likely to experience it during their lifetimes. Victims often face short- and long-term emotional and economic consequences in their careers. Economic costs can include unemployment, early departures from high-paying careers, forced job changes, and loss of critical employer-sponsored benefits like health insurance and retirement. For low-wage workers, the financial consequences can threaten their ability to meet basic needs and achieve economic security. 

“Without a deeper understanding of how sexual harassment and the economy intersect, individuals, employers, and the country as a whole will continue to see major financial and societal losses,” the report said. 

Financial costs of harassment  include not just lost wages and benefits but also reduced pension and social security payments, medical and psychiatric bills, possible retraining expenses, delayed career advancement, and negative“knock-on” consequences like late payment fees, loan defaults, lower credit scores and housing insecurity. Almost all of these costs can be avoided if employers act responsibly and lawfully, the Institute said. 

“Indifference and retaliation not only cut workers’ wages and benefits but also intensified the emotional distress caused by the harassment,” the report said. 

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