Is ‘workplace USA’ out of touch with sexual harassment?

Damian Brooks, from our York office, recently came across a fascinating report about sexual harassment in the workplace published by the American Economic Review. He wondered how its findings might go down this side of the pond…

A study carried out by Vanderbilt University in the US appears to conclude that employees more likely to experience sexual harassment were being paid higher salaries! One particular female mining engineer preferred to put up with the inappropriate behaviour of male colleagues rather than take a lower paid job where she ‘would have been treated with more respect’.

The report’s author, Joni Hersch – a professor of law and economics at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee – said: “She could have had a nicer job, but she likes the higher pay. Sexual harassment in the workplace is so universally despised that people require some extra compensation for exposure to a sexually harassing environment.

Why on earth wouldn’t an employer aware of a harassment problem simply tackle it head on, rather than ‘compensate’ in advance for it? I wonder if they list in the job requirements that the employee ‘must be prepared to put up with some sexual harassment’?

According to Ms Hersch, US economic problems are making the situation worse. “With over 9 per cent unemployment for the last four years, it’s not likely to change. At a time of such high unemployment people are reluctant to leave their jobs and/or file a complaint.

Of course I can understand claimants’ concerns, wherever they are. People will always worry about the practical impact that lodging a claim may have in the workplace. Thankfully, though, we do seem to be better protected here.

Just imagine the outcry if an employer in the UK ran the argument “she is paid a higher salary to take account of the fact she is sexually harassed” as a defence before an employment tribunal!

UK law states that it’s unlawful to discriminate against someone under any of the protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act 2010, which include (but are not limited to) sex, race, disability, sexual orientation and age. One of the points of having such a law is to educate people that it’s simply unacceptable to discriminate against someone under these grounds. Regardless of pay.

And under UK law, if someone suffers detriment at work as a result of bringing a claim for discrimination, they may succeed with an additional claim for victimisation.

Meaning that those who are unlawfully discriminated against – in the UK at any rate – should never be afraid of standing up for their rights, as supported by the law.


Current Controversies, Damian Brooks, Employment, Marcus Weatherby,
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