Knowledge Center

Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

Data and sources for Australia, Canada, European Union, India, Japan, and the United States.

Sex Discrimination

Sex discrimination exists when a person or group of people are treated unfavorably solely on the basis of their sex. In the United States, sex discrimination is illegal, and it includes discriminatory treatment related to hiring and firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, trainings, and benefits.1 


Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment at work is defined as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."2

  • Sexual harassment at work costs employers through the increased use of sick leave and job turnover of victims, and it creates an atmosphere that leads to decreased individual and group work productivity.3


Australia

Although Outlawed for 25 Years, Sexual Harassment Persists
 
  • The Sex Discrimination Act makes sexual harassment illegal and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital or relationship status, family responsibilities, pregnancy or breastfeeding.4
  • Almost half (49%) of mothers experienced sex discrimination in the workplace while pregnant, on parental leave, or returning to work. 32% of women who experienced sex discrimination looked for another job or resigned in 2014.5

  • In 2012, 13% of Australians either witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace or were told of a specific incident.6

    • Men constituted almost 4 out of 5 of those who sexually harass.7  
Sexual Harassment Is a Top Complaint Received by the Human Rights Commission8
  • In 2014–2015, 19% of all complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission were filed under the Sex Discrimination Act, and 77% of those complaints were sex discrimination in employment.9 


Canada

Canada's Constitution Prohibits Discrimination Based on Sex10
  • In 2016, harassment accounted for 15% of disputes received by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.11

  • According to a poll conducted in 2014, 3 out of 10 Canadians have been sexually harassed at the workplace.

    • 43% of women have experienced sexual harassment at work, while 12% of men have been subject to sexual harassment.12


European Union

Sex Discrimination Is Prohibited in EU Nations
  • Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam prohibits sex discrimination.  The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union includes a general prohibition of “any discrimination based on any ground, such as sex.”13

    • Nevertheless, 40 to 50% of EU women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.14


India

India's Constitution Prohibits Discrimination Based on Sex15
  • In 2013, India passed a law to ban sexual harassment in the workplace.16

    • The law defines sexual harassment in the workplace and implements measures to minimize bias or influence during the grievance process.17

  • In 2015, there were 444 sexual harassment complaints among India’s 79 biggest companies.18

    • The information technology sector accounted for 42.1% of the cases filed, followed by the banks and finance sector with 36.9%.


Japan 

Japan's Constitution Prohibits Discrimination Based on Sex19
  • Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, sexual harassment is illegal.20 

  • As of January 1, 2017, employers are obligated to take measures to prevent workplace harassment related to pregnancy, childbirth, childcare leave, or other similar circumstances.21

  • In fiscal 2015, the Equal Employment office had 9,580 sexual harassment consultations.22

    • 64.6% of sexual harassment consultations were made by female employees.23

    • 6.7% of sexual harassment consultations were made by male employees (*remaining 12.2% were by business owners and 16.5% by others).24


United States

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace.25 The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the United States.26

One in Four Women Experience Sexual Harassment in the Workplace27
  • In surveys of randomly representative samples, approximately 25% of women tend to report experiencing sexual harassment.28
Most of Workplace Harassments Are Unreported29
  • Despite the large volume of complaints filed with EEOC, most of the employees who experience harassment do not report. In fact, the least common response taken is to take some formal action.30
  • In 2017, about 72% of sexual harassment charges filed with EEOC included allegations of retaliation.31
Almost Three in Ten Cases Before the EEOC Are Sex Discrimination Cases32 
  • In FY 2016, the number of sex discrimination charges was 26,934, representing 29.4% of total charges.33
Pregnancy Discrimination Is a Form of Sex Discrimination in the United States34

 

  • Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that "discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination."35

    • An employer cannot refuse to hire someone on the basis of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, or based on the prejudices of coworkers.36

    • A pregnant employee must be allowed to work for as long as she can perform her job duties.37
    • Pregnancy discrimination is expensive: in 2016, the 3,486 receipts brought to the EEOC for pregnancy discrimination resulted in $15.5 million in monetary benefits (not including litigation awards).38

Sexual Harassment Claims Do Not Need to Result in Economic Suffering or Firing/Termination39
  • Sexual harassment can be from a supervisor, a supervisor from another department, a co-worker, a client, or a customer.40

  • Men filed 16.6% of sexual harassment charges in fiscal year 2016.41

Sexual Harassment Is Costly to Employers42
  • In addition to the direct costs associated harassment complaints, the indirect costs of harassment include decreased workplace performance and productivity, increased turnover, and reputational harm.43

Note:
This Quick Take focuses on sex discrimination and sexual harassment. Sex discrimination is discrimination based entirely on sex, that is, being female or male. Gender discrimination is rooted in perceptions of gender, gender stereotyping, and gender biases.


Additional Resources

Australian Human Rights Commission, Headline Prevalence Data: National Review on Discrimination Related to Pregnancy, Parental Leave and Return to Work (2014). 

Australian Human Right Commission, Sex Discrimination.

Canadian Human Rights Commission Website, Make a Complaint.

EEOC, How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination.

European Commission, Harassment Related to Sex and Sexual Harassment Law in 33 European Countries (2012).

National Women’s Law Center, FAQ About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (2016).

National Women’s Law Center, Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (2016).

National Women’s Law Center, #MeToo What Next: Strengthening Workplace Sexual Harassment Protections and Accountability (2017).

World Bank Group, Women, Business and the Law: Getting to Equal 2016.

How to cite this product: Catalyst, Quick Take: Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment, (January 23, 2018).