This blog post is part of our Workplace Sexual Harassment Prevention Toolkit, which we hope will help workers learn to identify, address, and prevent workplace sexual harassment. The toolkit is available in English, Spanish, and Mandarin. It has valuable information not only for victims of harassment, but also for other employees who may be bystanders witnessing harassment and for employers who seek to eradicate workplace sexual harassment.
During this Mental Health Awareness Month in the fourteenth month of the pandemic, it is a time to reflect on the trauma inflicted by the pandemic: the tragic loss of loved ones and friends, the isolation, and the economic insecurity. The physical and mental toll of these traumas are compounded for frontline workers who have not just been risking their own health to keep our economy running. With low wages, record unemployment, and an unequal social safety net, workers are under pressure to stay employed, no matter the conditions. For many women and LGBTQ workers, these pressures have led to an increase in workplace sexual harassment, as harassers take advantage of the economic insecurity created by the pandemic.
Even before the economic pressures of the pandemic, as many as 85% of women have experienced “unwelcome sexually based behaviors” in the workplace, such as unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, and sexual harassment. In 2018 alone upwards of 40% of women and 16% of men reported they were sexually harassed at work. While it is clear that sexual harassment is still pervasive, an estimated 87 to 94% of those who experience sexual harassment never file a formal legal complaint. This is perhaps less shocking when you consider that 75% of people who report workplace harassment are retaliated against, thus perpetuating the toxic culture and instilling a fear of reporting.
Sexual harassment is unwelcome verbal, written, or physical conduct based on sex, sex stereotyping, gender identity, or gender expression. Examples of such conduct include sexual jokes, comments based on gender stereotypes (“women are weak”), threats (including non-verbal threats, such as constant staring or menacing behavior), name-calling, displays of explicit images or objects, physical assault, or rape.
Sexual harassment is compounded by interlocking systems of oppression such as racism and nativism. Workers of color are more likely to experience sexual assault than their white counterparts. For instance, Black women experience sexual harassment at work at three times the rate of white women. Workers are also harassed more when they receive low wages, work in isolation, or are more vulnerable because of their immigration status or English fluency.
The theme this year for Mental Health Awareness Month is “You are not alone.” Workers who face sexual harassment are sadly not alone in being harassed but they also do not need to be alone in remedying the trauma. If you believe you, a co-worker, a friend, or family member is experiencing workplace sexual harassment, please take a look at the rest of our toolkit, which will provide you with specific resources about preventing and remedying harassment. The toolkit answers frequently asked questions about sexual harassment and retaliation and provides sample letters and templates to help workers advocate for themselves and protect themselves against retaliation. With these free legal resources, we hope to empower low-wage workers to defend their right to a safe, harassment-free workplace. For free and confidential legal advice about sexual harassment prevention, please call our helpline at 844-269-0146.