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Why Is Workplace Sexual Harassment Underreported? The Value of outside Options amid the Threat of Retaliation

Author

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  • Dahl, Gordon B.

    (University of California, San Diego)

  • Knepper, Matthew

    (University of Georgia)

Abstract

Why is workplace sexual harassment chronically underreported? We hypothesize that employers coerce victims into silence through the threat of a retaliatory firing, and test this theory by estimating whether external shocks that reduce the value of a worker's outside options exacerbate underreporting. Under mild assumptions, a rise in the severity of formal complaints is indicative of increased underreporting. Combining this insight with an objective measure of the quality of charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), we perform two analyses. First, we assess whether workers report sexual harassment more selectively during recessions, when outside labor market options are limited. We estimate the fraction of sexual harassment charges deemed to have merit by the EEOC increases by 0.5-0.7% for each one percentage point increase in a state-industry's monthly unemployment rate. The effect is amplified in industries employing a larger fraction of men and in establishments with a higher share of male managers. Second, we test whether less generous UI benefits create economic incentives for victims of workplace sexual harassment to remain silent. We find the selectivity of sexual harassment charges increases by more than 30% in response to a 50% cut to North Carolina's Unemployment Insurance (UI) program following the Great Recession.

Suggested Citation

  • Dahl, Gordon B. & Knepper, Matthew, 2021. "Why Is Workplace Sexual Harassment Underreported? The Value of outside Options amid the Threat of Retaliation," IZA Discussion Papers 14740, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp14740
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    Cited by:

    1. Abi Adams-Prassl & Kristiina Huttunen & Emily Nix & Ning Zhang, 2022. "Violence against women at work," Economics Series Working Papers 979, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    2. Amanda M. Grittner & Matthew S. Johnson, 2021. "When Labor Enforcement and Immigration Enforcement Collide: Deterring Worker Complaints Worsens Workplace Safety," Upjohn Working Papers 21-353, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    3. Laura Boudreau & Sylvain Chassang & Ada González-Torre & Rachel Heath, 2022. "Monitoring Harassment in Organizations," Working Papers 2022-19, Princeton University. Economics Department..

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    unemployment insurance; unemployment; sexual harassment;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J71 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Hiring and Firing
    • J78 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Public Policy (including comparable worth)

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