EEOC: 2016 Study Shows Sex-Based Harassment Complaints Comprise Nearly Half of Harassment Complaints

By Vanessa Williams

In the past few months, there has been a growing number of accusations highlighting the sexual harassment and sexual misconduct many women face in their workplaces. Fortunately, the current conversation regarding sexual harassment has been more open to the stories of victims.

While many have questioned the timing of accusations, it has sparked a much-needed conversation to hold individuals accountable for their actions. In 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, a report assessing the issues associated with employment harassment.

The EEOC’s study examines complaints of alleged harassment based on sex, race, disability, age, national origin, and religion; the results provided here will focus on the sex-based harassment. It is critical to note that sex-based harassment is not limited to unwanted sexual advances or sexual misconduct. It also involves harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy as well. Nonetheless, alleged harassment because of sex received the highest percentage of harassment complaints in 2015.

According to the study, alleged sex-based harassment was approximately 45% of the total number of alleged harassment charges received in 2015 against private employers, or state and local government employers. For federal employees, the percentage was 44%. Although the total number of federal complaints alleging harassment (6,741 complaints) is much lower than complaints against private, or state and local government employers (28,000 complaints), the percentage of sex-based harassment is quite similar.

With sexual harassment allegations comprising nearly half of the employment harassment allegations in 2015, sexual harassment continued to be an issue in the workplace. In the report, the EEOC suggests that training must change and not be counterproductive to eradicating harassment from the workplace. The Select Task Force “believe[s] effective training can reduce workplace harassment, … [and] training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace…”

Following many news stories on alleged sexual misconduct by politicians in November, it appears that Congress may have noted advice to implement effective training to reduce harassment. In early November, the Senate passed a bipartisan resolution mandating anti-harassment training for all senators and employees of the Senate. Shortly after, the House of Representatives enacted the amended legislation mandating annual anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all 535 members of Congress and their staff, including interns and fellows.

One essential key finding in the study is that workplace harassment is difficult to eradicate due to many incidents of harassment often going unreported. This finding seems accurate as 1,500 former Capitol Hill aides signed an open letter to House and Senate leaders to reform the system for filing sexual harassment complaints. Presently, an individual must wait at least 90 days from the alleged incident before filing a sexual harassment complaint, contingent on unsuccessful mediation.

The application of mandatory anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training is a step in the right direction, but Congress must also address its current system for filing harassment complaints. Congress has the opportunity to illustrate a real-time solution to reducing harassment in the workplace. However, it must take all of these issues into consideration and effectively implement the resolutions.

Read more on the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.