Workplace Harassment and Bullying

What is Workplace Bullying and Harassment?

A very important piece of legislation was recently passed with bipartisan support that will make it easier for victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace to file charges against employers. The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (H.R. 4445) is expected to be signed into law by President Biden and was passed with bipartisan support. This new law will allow victims to hire workplace harassment lawyers to file legal suits instead of being forced into arbitration.

Victims can also choose legal action even if they previously signed an agreement with their employer that limited their legal remedies to arbitration only. This will force stricter legal ramifications to employers that will be required to effectively handle issues of sexual harassment in the workplace.
In 2018, Pew Research Center conducted a survey on workplace sexual harassment and found that half of US Survey respondents were more concerned about men getting away with sexual harassment compared to men being fired prematurely. And 59% of women shared that they had personally received unwanted sexual advances or verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature both in and outside of the workplace.

Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace is not illegal

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found that in the 2021 US Bullying Workplace Bullying Survey that 79.3 million workers have been affected by workplace bullying. WBI defines workplace bullying as, “repeated, health-harming mistreatment by one or more employees of an employee: abusive conduct that takes the form of verbal abuse; or behaviors perceived as threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; work sabotage; or in some combination of both”. WBI are strong proponents of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) that would extend the legal ramifications of sexual harassment to include workplace bullying and hostile work environments – both of which are currently not illegal in the workplace.

Gender-Based Harassment Issues
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines workplace harassment as a “form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).” In 2017, 12,428 charges of gender-based harassment and 6,696 charges of sexual harassment were filed.

Using data from the EEOC, a study by Bloch et. Al (2020) examined the process related to an employee’s ability to reach middle and senior management based on employees’ race and gender. An intersectional analysis between race and gender in management positions, the study found increases in the percentage of Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other workers are correlated to increases in women in senior management. Notably, black women composed less than 4% of middle management and less than 2% of senior management. While white women occupied 30% of middle management and white men holding 47% of middle management positions, women were more successful at becoming middle management, however, had issues with advancing and being promoted to a higher senior position.

The results of the EEOC study are also consistent with findings by Alegria (2019). This study found that women had more success being in management roles and similarly experienced a “glass escalator” in which women in male-dominated workplaces were promoted into supervisory positions but were also struggling to advance in their careers from there. Placing white women in middle management allows for the smaller “step” in giving women the promotion needed; however discriminatory behavior occurs when we examine how many women are in higher senior levels such as a CEO or Vice President position. The small promotions include the consequence of moving women out of more technical positions and towards social aspects of business and management which in turn keeps engineering and other STEM-related teams from fully incorporating women in their work.

Workplace Misconduct Comes with High Costs
In a recent study by Vault Platform , 50% of employees in the US have witnessed or been a victim of misconduct for both bullying and harassment. In a close second, 46% of US respondents for discrimination. The same study explained that the failure of companies to address harassment and bullying issues in the workplace cost U.S. businesses in the past year an estimated $20.2 billion. Victims of workplace misconduct missed on average six days of work, with an estimated 43 million sick days overall. This resulted in an estimated $8.54 billion loss to the US economy.

Companies should conduct internal discrimination surveys among women and men employees to determine what additional factors impact women’s work experience. Federal government agencies, like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), were established to enforce civil rights violations related to workplace discrimination, but they remain limited in the number of cases they can manage because it is not a federal budget priority. Without a better analysis of company policies and practices to address anti-discrimination and harassment at work, these factors will continue to impact gender inequality in the workforce.

By Melissa Carlysle

Melissa Carlysle is the CEO of SOCIHACKS, a facilitator of hackathons, workshops and educational summits for low-income and minority youth across the globe. She inspires youth to participate in hands-on, collaborative educational training using the latest technology to ensure they are successful in a 21st century workforce.

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