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Less than zero

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One in five U.S. workers are exposed to a hostile work environment

Jana Kasperkevic Aug 17, 2017
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Workers have been exposed to verbal abuse, unwanted sexual attention, threats, or humiliating behavior. 
Mario Vedder/Getty Images

Earlier this month, Google fired an engineer, claiming that he violated the company’s code of conduct and created a hostile work environment when he wrote and shared what is by now an infamous memo alleging that the underrepresentation of women in tech was not due to sexism but because of biological differences. Google, however, is not the only company dealing with a hostile or threatening social environment at work, according to RAND, a nonprofit think tank.

From July to October 2015, RAND surveyed more than 3,000 people for its American Working Conditions Survey that was released last week. It found that almost 20 percent of U.S. workers are exposed to a hostile work environment.

“Nearly one in five American workers were subjected to some form of verbal abuse, unwanted sexual attention, threats, or humiliating behavior at work in the past month or to physical violence, bullying or harassment, or sexual harassment at work in the past 12 months,” according to the report. “Among men, the most common adverse events were verbal abuse and threats (13 percent in the past month), humiliating behavior (10 percent in the past month), bullying or harassment (9 percent in the past year), physical violence (2 percent in the past year), and unwanted sexual attention (1 percent in the past month). Among women, the most common adverse events were verbal abuse and threats (12.1 percent in the past month), bullying or harassment (11 percent in the past year), humiliating behavior (8 percent in the past month), unwanted sexual attention (5 percent in the past month), and physical violence (1 percent in the past year).”

abuse workers harassment workplace education

The data collected by RAND revealed a series of trends. For example, college graduates were less likely to experience abuse in the workplace. Workers who frequently interact with customers or clients were more likely to experience abuse or harassment. Younger workers were more likely to be targeted for abuse — with younger men being more likely to experience verbal abuse and younger women being more likely to experience unwanted sexual attention.

abuse harassment workplace customers

Authors of the RAND report were alarmed by the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace.

“The patterns among women are also alarming, especially with respect to unwanted sexual attention: Nine percent of young, college-graduate women (age 25–35), 8 percent of young, non–college-graduate women, and 7 percent of prime-age, non–college-graduate women (age 35–49) reported receiving  unwanted  sexual  attention  in  the  past  month,” they wrote.

Since the survey was conducted, a number of U.S. companies have had to publicly address sexual harassment claims — including Fox News, Kay Jewelers and Uber.

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