EEOC should systematically analyze retaliation charge data associated with protected activities, GAO says
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Monday, October 19, 2020

EEOC should systematically analyze retaliation charge data associated with protected activities, GAO says

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The Commission cannot systematically analyze the relationship between sexual harassment and retaliation charge data for all charges filed nationwide.

The Government Accountability Office has recommended that as the EEOC plans to implement a new data system, the Commission Chair should assess the feasibility of systematically analyzing its data on retaliation charges and the associated protected activities, including those related to sexual harassment. The EEOC has not said whether it concurs with the recommendation, according to the report, but the GAO, after considering the agency’s comments about the report, continues to believe that this recommendation is appropriate.

Workplace harassment problem. The GAO explained that limited nationwide data hinder a comprehensive understanding of the prevalence and costs of workplace sexual harassment. The GAO’s analysis of federal data and literature review found that the few reliable nationwide estimates of sexual harassment’s prevalence vary substantially due to differences in methodology, including the question structure and time period the survey used.

Further, the likelihood of experiencing workplace sexual harassment can vary based on an individual’s demographic characteristics, such as gender, race, and age, and whether the workplace is male- or female-dominated. Women, younger workers, and women in male-dominated workplaces were more likely to say they experienced harassment.

Data on cost of harassment. The GAO was not able to find any recent cost estimates of workplace sexual harassment, but identified four broad categories of costs: health, productivity, career, and reporting and legal costs.

Health costs include:

  • Mental health symptoms;
  • Physical health symptoms; and
  • Employer healthcare costs.

Productivity costs include:

  • Absenteeism;
  • Reduced performance; and
  • Decreased job satisfaction.

Career costs include:

  • Employee’s costs associated with changing jobs; and
  • Employer’s costs to replace the employee.

Reporting and legal costs include:

  • Legal fees;
  • Time cost of filing and processing reports;
  • Expense of settlements or litigation awards; and
  • Damage to employer and employee’s reputation if the report is made public.

EEOC data. As part of its mission to prevent and remedy unlawful employment discrimination, the EEOC maintains data on sexual harassment and retaliation charges filed against employers. However, the Commission cannot systematically analyze the relationship between the two for all charges filed nationwide, the GAO observed. After filing sexual harassment charges or engaging in other protected activity, employees may experience retaliation, such as firing or demotion. EEOC data show that retaliation charges are a growing portion of its workload.

The EEOC's planning documents highlight its intention to address retaliation and use charge data to inform its outreach to employers. However, even though the EEOC can review electronic copies of individual charges for details, such as whether a previously filed sexual harassment charge led to a retaliation charge, its data system cannot aggregate this information across all charges.

"Without the capacity to fully analyze trends in the relationship between sexual harassment and retaliation charges, EEOC may miss opportunities to refine its work with employers to prevent and address retaliation," according to the GAO.

Nation surveys. As part of its study, the GAO convened a two-day roundtable of experts, with assistance from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and conducted a literature review. According to those experts, nationally representative surveys would help to improve available information on workplace sexual harassment. Expert recommendations focused on three main areas:

  1. Survey administration and resources, including advantages and disadvantages to various federal roles;
  2. Methods to collect data, such as using stand-alone surveys or adding questions to existing surveys; and
  3. Content of data to be collected, including employee and employer characteristics and specific costs.

More about the report. The GAO noted that while many workers in the United States experience workplace sexual harassment, the extent of sexual harassment and the magnitude of its effects are not fully understood. The GAO was asked to examine the extent to which reliable information is available on the prevalence and costs of workplace sexual harassment. The GAO examined what is known about the prevalence and costs of U.S. workplace sexual harassment, including the federal workforce; the extent to which EEOC collects sexual harassment data; and data collection approaches that experts recommend to improve available information.

To address these objectives, the GAO analyzed EEOC data and survey data from other federal agencies, interviewed officials and reviewed documentation from multiple federal agencies, and interviewed experts on sexual harassment. The GAO also convened roundtable of experts and conducted a literature review.

News: Reports Surveys Discrimination AgencyNews SexualHarassment Retaliation GCNNews

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