How Workplace Harassment Affects Job Prospects

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It's truly unfair that fighting workplace sexual harassment can be as harrowing or more than the experience itself. Human resources, after all, sounds like it should protect employees, but its real purpose is anything but. At the very least, workplace institutions should create disincentives for employees found to harass others, but even there, the news isn't very good.

Researchers at Michigan State University have found that just 48 percent of workplace harassment cases end with the harasser getting fired. Per a press release, "In 13 percent of cases, the accused harassers were allowed back to work without any punishment. In the other cases, 12 percent could come back to work with no back pay; 20 percent of the cases reduced the discipline to a suspension, and 2 percent were reduced to a warning." Meanwhile, employers barely compensate harassed workers for emotional harm, assuming they haven't been gaslit out of the workplace entirely.

Previous studies suggest that workplace sexual harassers may do so because of a lack of self-confidence, but in truth, workplaces in general need to step up their game in providing institutional support for the harassed. Even being CEO doesn't tend to protect female executives from sexism, a problem that reproduces down through every level of an office hierarchy. Furthermore, the Harvard Business Review reports that men are now more hesitant to hire women at all, which demolishes any notion that gender bias is over.

Ultimately, of course, the solution isn't that hard. As MSU study co-author Stacy Hickox puts it, "You can train people on harassment until they're blue in the face, but until there are clearer, more stringent policies [and consequences] from employers, the issue will continue."