How sexual harassment in the workplace affects employee performance

In this day and age, knowledge and awareness of sexual harassment is increasing. It can happen anywhere and to anyone. Worst of all, the culprit can be a complete stranger, somebody you know and trust, or someone you work with. 


Based on this study conducted in 2019 by the Center for Gender Equity and Health at UCSD’s School of Medicine and the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), sexual harassment rates in the state are higher than the national average. The report states that, in California:


  • Sexual harassment rates for women are five percent higher (86 percent in California versus 81 percent nationally);

  • Sexual harassment rates for men are ten percent higher (53 percent in California versus 43 percent nationally); and

  • Foreign-born men and LBGT members are more likely to be targeted.


Even more alarming is the increasing rates of sexual harassment claims in the workplace nationwide. In 2017 alone, over 7,500 claims were filed with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That was a 14 percent increase from 2016 rates.


Understanding sexual harassment in the workplace in California



California is one of the several states that have sex discrimination protections in place. Sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination. In the workplace, this is a direct violation of two laws: the Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 


The following acts are considered sexual harassment:


  • Visual acts which include sexual gestures, leering, and display of sexually suggestive media;

  • Verbal comments which include threats, sexually suggestive, derogatory, and degrading statements, graphic commentaries about your body, slurs, and sex jokes;

  • Physical acts which include inappropriate touching without consent, blocking or impeding your movement, sexual assault, and any action against your negative response to sexual advances and harassment. 


These acts are then classified under two kinds of sexual harassment in the workplace: quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment.

Quid pro quo harassment 


If the acts you experienced were done in exchange for a job offer or a promotion, employment benefits, and other workplace perks, this is qualified as quid pro quo harassment.


Hostile work environment harassment


When the sexual harassment you experience at the workplace has made it feel unsafe to the point that it affects your work performance, you are being subjected to hostile work environment harassment. 


Sexual comments, unwanted advances and retaliatory actions, and the resulting discrimination from sexual harassment can all contribute in creating a hostile work environment.


The effects of sexual harassment in the workplace



The effects of sexual harassment in the workplace is wide-ranging, not just for the victims, but for the entire staff as well. 



People who are sexually harassed in the workplace might experience higher levels of stress and anxiety. These can result in decreased productivity. Others eventually develop depression which can cause them to inflict harm and pain on themselves.


At work, victims of sexual harassment might also be gossiped out which can further increase their unease at the workplace. They can be subjected to discrimination as well. 


Long-lasting physical trauma can also be experienced by victims, especially those who were sexually assaulted. This can contribute to more negative mental health effects. 


All of these effects severely affect a victim’s chance to pursue their career aspirations. While others quit before the going gets worse, some victims are unjustly demoted or fired from work because they resisted their harassers’ sexual advances.

Colleagues and other employees


As established earlier, sexual harassment in the workplace can make the environment hostile and toxic. This negatively affects company culture and team morale.


If the culture of sexual harassment is well-known in the workplace, other employees might also experience stress and anxiety, fearing they might be the next victims. Absence of trust and camaraderie can decrease morale, which can lead to absenteeism and even a high attrition rate in the company or organization.


In case of highly publicized sexual harassment cases in the workplace, the company’s reputation might be severely damaged. It might be hard to recruit new talent to join the team and even discourage remaining employees to look for better pastures elsewhere. 



Everyone deserves to pursue their careers and professional lives in a safe workplace, full of respect and free of sexual harassment. 

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