Twenty-two Democratic senators are calling on the Labor Department to collect additional, better data regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.
The senators sent a letter to the department, signed by Sen. Kristen Gillibrand and co-signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), among others. Not a single Republican senator attached their name to the letter.
“What is known is that harassment is not confined to industry or one group. It affects minimum-wage fast-food workers, middle-class workers at car manufacturing plants, and white-collar workers in finance and law, among many others,” the senators wrote in the letter, provided to Buzzfeed. “No matter the place or source, harassment has a tangible and negative economic effect on individuals’ lifetime income and retirement, and its pervasiveness damages the economy as a whole.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that anywhere from 25 percent to 85 percent of women report having been sexual harassed in the workplace. An ABC News-Washington Post poll taken shortly after the New York Times bombshell report on Harvey Weinstein found that 33 million U.S. women, or roughly 33 percent of female workers in the country, have experienced unwanted sexual advances from male co-workers. Among those women who have been sexually harassed in the workplace, nearly all, 95 percent, say their male harassers typically go unpunished.
What this data doesn’t reveal, however, are the financial and personal costs of sexual harassment that women endure — and that’s exactly what these senators are in search of.
Workplace harassment has physical and psychological consequences, including depression and anxiety. These consequences can manifest themselves in missed workdays and reduced productivity, in addition to decreased self-esteem and loss of self-worth in the workplace.
In the restaurant industry, where 90 percent of female workers have experienced sexual harassment, more than half of these women endured the behavior, by both customers and co-workers, because they relied on the money. The Gillibrand letter describes these women as being “financially coerced” into enduring toxic workplace environments.
Sexual harassment in the workplace often forces female victims to leave their jobs to avoid continuing to experience the harassment. This frequently occurs in science, technology, and engineering fields, rather than low-wage service jobs.
According to data collected by sociologist Heather McLaughlin and others, about 80 percent of women who’ve been harassed leave their jobs within two years.
This call-to-action from Congress comes at time when the governing body is still trying to grapple with its own sexual harassment problem. As recently as this week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) flew to Washington D.C. from Florida to fire his chief of staff over sexual misconduct allegations.
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives unveiled bipartisan legislation last week to overhaul sexual harassment policies on Capitol Hill. The policy, as it stands now, overwhelmingly protects the harasser.
The new legislation also includes language that bars lawmakers from using taxpayer funds for settlements. As was first reported by the New York Times, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) used taxpayer money to settle a complaint from a former staffer. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) similarly confessed he agreed to an $84,000 settlement after a former aid accused him of sexual harassment. Farenthold as allegedly pledged to take out a personal loan to pay back the $84,000 dollars.
According to a GOP aide familiar with how the House sexual harassment legislation was crafted, Farenthold’s case led to the inclusion of a provision that would prevent the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) from reviewing complaints. Instead, complaints would automatically be referred to the House Ethics Committee, bypassing the agency in an effort to streamline the process.
The OCE reviewed complaints against Farenthold in 2015 but concluded there was not substantial reason to believe he sexually harassed his staffer.