Twenty-two Democratic senators sent a letter to the top federal labor officials on Monday demanding their department collect more and better data concerning sexual harassment in the United States workforce.
The letter, which was provided exclusively to BuzzFeed News, was signed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and cosigned by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala D. Harris, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders among others. No Republican senator cosigned it. It was addressed to Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and Bureau of Labor Statistics Acting Commissioner William J. Wiatrowski.
The senators are requesting the Labor Department collect data on the “prevalence and cost of sexual harassment,” the letter read.
In particular, the senators want the department to do a study on the economic impact of sexual harassment on the labor force broadly and on workers themselves on a national level.
Gillibrand and her cosigners want the analysis to include the impact sexual harassment may have on labor force participation rates and economic losses suffered by those who experience sexual harassment, like lost incomes or lost retirement savings.
The senator and her cosigners wrote the letter after reading a BuzzFeed News story examining the prevalence of sexual harassment in different industries, a spokesperson for Gillibrand said. The BuzzFeed News article was based on previously unpublished data of sexual harassment charges filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and can be downloaded here.
“In recent weeks and months, the #MeToo movement has brought to light the experiences of countless workers who have endured sexual harassment for far too long,” the letter reads.
“However, there has not been an exact accounting of the extent of this discrimination and the magnitude of its economic costs on the labor force. We therefore request that your agencies work to collect this data,” it continued.
While experts agree that there’s a real economic cost that workers and employers suffer from sexual harassment in the workplace, there are few studies that measure it.
The EEOC collects data of settlements and other payments made based on claims filed to the commission. In the fiscal year of 2017, workers who filed and successfully proved sexual harassment charges received a total of $46.3 million from employers.
But the cost that may be even harder to enumerate is the price paid by workers who make career decisions based on how toxic their work environment is. Workers who experienced sexual harassment were more likely to experience financial stress than those who didn’t, and as a result were 6.5 times more likely to change jobs, according to the study “The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women.”
Women who were interviewed for the study spoke of how they lost wages because they quit a job, reduced their hours, or were unable to advance in their careers due to toxic work environments and sexual harassment.
“Even for those women for whom you don’t see a huge impact immediately, those tiny numbers can add up over time,” said Amy Blackstone, coauthor of the study. “Especially for people in their twenties in a period when people are expected to move up in their careers.”