Which Industries Have the Most Sexual Harassment Reports?

Sharon Feldman

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the government entity responsible for collecting all types of discrimination claims, including reports of sexual harassment.

Any employee in the United States who feels they have been illegally discriminated against at work can file a charge with the EEOC, who will then investigate the claim and take any necessary action.

Unfortunately, not all instances of sexual harassment get reported.

There are many barriers that stop harassed employees from making a report, such as fear of retaliation and uncertainty of what constitutes harassment.

This means that data from the EEOC cannot possibly reflect every actual instance of harassment, but it’s a good place to start analyzing data and trying to make sense of it. One interesting data point to examine is which industries receive the most sexual harassment reports.

EEOC Data

According to EEOC data from 2005 to 2015, the ten industries with the most sexual harassment reports are as follows. Included is the percentage of total reports that each industry represents. 

  1. Accommodation and Food Services (14.23%)
  2. Retail Trade (13.44%)
  3. Manufacturing (11.72%)
  4. Health Care and Social Assistance (11.48%)
  5. Administrative/Support/Waste Management/Remediation (6.92%)
  6. Public Administration (6.48%)
  7. Professional/Scientific/Technical Services (5.73%)
  8. Transportation and Warehousing (4.94%)
  9. Finance and Insurance (3.98%)
  10. Educational Services (3.98%)

The accommodation and food services industry takes first place, which will come as no surprise to many. The restaurant industry has dealt with sexual harassment issues for years; not only do servers and hospitality workers have to deal with harassment from coworkers or supervisors, but from customers as well.

Because “the customer is always right” in the service industry, some customers are empowered to take advantage of service employees. Many customers also expect their service “with a smile”, and expect service employees to put up with anything in order to get a tip.

The issue is similar in the retail industry. Not only does harassment come from customers, but it’s another service industry which means it typically has many low paid female employees, and mostly male supervisors. An uneven gender ratio may also be the reason that the manufacturing industry comes in third on the list.

This industry typically has much higher amounts of male employees than female employees, creating an uneven power dynamic. One survey found that over 60% of women in manufacturing reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. 

Finally, let’s take a closer look at the industry in fourth place: health care and social assistance. Like the restaurant industry, the nursing industry has been speaking out about sexual harassment for years. Health care workers have to deal with potential harassment from fellow staff, supervisors, patients, and even patients’ family members.

Not only is there another group of potential harassers, but health care workers often need to physically touch their patients, which can lead to blurry boundaries. Just like in restaurants, the customers – or patients in this case – can have a sense of entitlement, thinking they deserve any type of service they desire from the employee.

Interpreting the Data

Based on the industries with the most harassment claims, there are a few factors that seem to be at play. One is the presence of customers or patients in that line of work. We see that restaurants and health care facilities deal with harassment more than others, and other data sources have shown us that both servers and nurses report harassment from these populations.

There are also other factors not seen in the data that may play a role. For one, we don’t see a breakdown of who the harassment stems from; it would be interesting to know the percentage that comes from fellow staff members versus customers or patients. Additionally, these industries may have different amounts of harassment in different parts of the country. We don’t know where exactly these issues are the most prevalent. Oftentimes local laws and company policies dictate company culture and set a precedent for what behavior is acceptable.

The next step is to continue collecting and analyzing data, spreading awareness, and encouraging proper employment laws and policies that protect employees from harassment.

About the Author: Sharon Feldman is a writer based in San Diego, California, who is passionate about safety and equality. When not writing blogs, Sharon can be found at the beach with her dog.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness. Published with permission.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.