DOL rejects senators’ request for harassment study

The U.S. Department of Labor has refused to help a group of Democratic senators seeking to determine the overall impact of workplace sexual harassment on the economy. Now the legislators, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, have turned to the Government Accountability Office for assistance.

The senators requested the study in a Jan. 29 letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and William J. Wiatrowski, acting commissioner of the DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The senators noted that the costs of litigation and settlements are generally available. However, indirect costs—such as “decreased productivity, increased turnover, and reputational harm”—are less obvious, but have just as profound an effect businesses’ bottom lines. The letter sought BLS data to help quantify those factors.

Turning down the senator’s request, Acosta said the study would be too “complex and costly.” He noted the need for “consultation with experts, cognitive testing, data collection training, and test collection.”

The senators were not pleased. Gillibrand said the BLS’s “lack of commitment to collect data undermines assurances” that the agency “takes sexual harassment seriously.” She said that the fact that the “work is complex by nature does not seem to be a sufficient justification to decline this request.”

The Senate group suggested that political considerations—not cost and complexity—might be behind the refusal.