Most government agencies wouldn’t talk publicly about sexual harassment in terms of its financial costs. There’s a good reason for that – reducing an employee’s emotional damage to a financial impact is a heartless worldview. It might even imply that the agency would allow the behavior to continue if only they could mitigate the costs. Every agency should have safeguards in place to prevent sexual harassment as a matter of basic respect for their employees.
Determining the appropriate amount of resources to dedicate to those safeguards, however, can be difficult. Government employers must decide how to split the money dedicated to employee protection and employee satisfaction, and any money dedicated to one workplace improvement initiative can’t go to another. At what point does an organization decide that the challenge of sexual harassment has been sufficiently addressed? When should additional money be allocated instead to preventing discrimination, improving the office environment, or even improving the hiring process to minimize work overload? All of these issues have an impact on employee safety and satisfaction.
As noted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand a few months ago, the federal government hasn’t conducted research into the financial impact of sexual harassment within the federal workforce since 1994. At that time, the Merit Systems Protection Board estimated that sexual harassment led to job turnover, sick leave, and decreased productivity that cost the government $327 million.
The federal government does regularly conduct research into the rate of harassment within all federal agencies, however, and it isn’t good. One out of five female employees that worked for the federal government experienced sexual harassment in a single two-year period, between 2014 and 2016. In the Navy, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Veterans Affairs, it exceeded 25%. This implies that however much money and attention was being provided to the issue at the federal level during this time, it was highly insufficient.
Additional research in private companies has implications for governments, as well. Three sociologists conducted research that concluded 80% of women who experienced severe sexual harassment leave their jobs within two years. They were more likely to move to a different industry and reduce work hours. This means that public workers who are exposed to this harassment are likely to leave government employment entirely. Obviously, this sexual harassment had severe emotional and financial implications for the victims as well.
When factoring in the legal costs, medical costs, reduced productivity and turnover in a tough hiring environment, sexual harassment is more than just a threat to an agency’s employees and reputation. It’s a threat to their ability to fulfill their mandate. This area is due a substantial increase in attention for the vast majority of federal agencies, and likely many local and state agencies as well.
To learn how CMTS:HR can help you improve HR investigation workflows, call us at 919-747-3812 or email us at Team_CMTSHR@CMTSHR.com.