Me Too
Lowered incomes, bad work appraisals, legal expenses and therapy costs are just a few financial burdens faced by women who face workplace harassment.
Image for representation only

Over the past week, a number of prominent men in the media have been outed in allegations of sexual misconduct as women recounted harrowing tales of abuse. Most of these cases centred around workplace harassment, where men used their position of power to take advantage of, belittle and intimidate women. But when a woman is a victim of harassment by an employer, she doesn’t just pay physically and emotionally but also financially. While the perpetrators continue climbing the corporate ladder with consummate ease, women face the prospect of lowered incomes, bad work appraisals, legal expenses, therapy costs, and a litany of repercussions to their finances and careers.

The Consequences of ‘Outing’ and The Financial Impact of Harassment

It’s easy to tell a woman to ‘out’ her perpetrator, but the consequences of doing so can be incredibly damaging. For starters, since the harasser is often a man in a position of authority, even if a woman tries to complain, there is no guarantee that the accused will lose his job. On the contrary, the woman might be spurned by her colleagues. If a woman is fired or quits abruptly, moving on with a harmful label adds layers of challenges to finding a new job. There’s the possibility of a lower pay scale (a reduction of Rs 10,000 per month, even for just one year, is a reduction of Rs 7.3 lakh* from your retirement savings), and no guarantee that she won’t face other offenders.

To make matters worse, it’s not uncommon for women to be sued for defamation or handed legal notices. Responding to these notices requires both mental strength to relive distressing experiences and the financial capacity to pay legal expenses. It doesn’t help that courts can take years to decide these cases and the outcomes are often no more than a slap on the wrist for the harasser.

Even if the woman doesn’t lose her job, her professional life will suffer. Workplaces are social communities and news of her complaints could make peers, especially those who are close to the perpetrator, gang up and become uncooperative towards her. It isn’t surprising to hear that colleagues try to assassinate the woman’s character through gossip and rumours. Hostile attitudes at the office have a negative impact on work and consequently, appraisals, bonuses and promotions. There have also been proven instances where bosses who knew that their advances were unwelcome have tried to sabotage careers. Missing out on a promotion isn’t just about losing a designation that you’ve coveted, but also missing out on a pay raise (to reiterate: losing out on a Rs 10,000 hike for even one year leads to you losing more than Rs 7 lakh at the time of retirement).

Harassment also results in mental turmoil, which, in many cases, can only be set right with therapy. Therapy isn’t cheap, and qualified therapists don’t charge anything less than Rs 500 a session. Two sessions a week will reduce your monthly budget by Rs 4,000 and this is a conservative estimate.

The Fight Has Only Just Begun

A growing database of professionals is presently being collated, including lawyers, doctors, therapists, who are ready to offer their services pro bono to victims of harassment. If you are looking for help, consider these resources available online. One way to ensure that you’ll always have money for a rainy day is by putting money aside in easy-to-manage savings schemes like Recurring Deposit accounts or by putting money away in an FD the moment your bank balance reaches a certain amount. By saving aggressively, you’ll always have money for emergencies. Always aim to have three to six months of your pay in emergency savings.

Women are also paid less than men for the same job. Additionally, women are the primary caretakers of the household and shoulder extra responsibilities once they become parents. Add to this the pressures of harassment, is it any wonder 70% of incidences of sexual harassment go unreported? Or that there are fewer and fewer women in our workplaces?

Women live longer than men and therefore need to save more for when they retire, especially because they are more prone to health problems that crop up during their silver years. According to a British research report, the average man accumulates five times the retirement savings in comparison to women. The numbers aren’t going to be very different (if anything, they might be worse), back home.

For years, women have suffered workplace harassment in silence because the weight of the consequences are far too heavy for one person to bear. But if the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, it’s that as a sisterhood, the load lightens. Your salary, which you are earning because of your qualifications and your capabilities, shouldn’t to be at the mercy of men who view women as objects. Educate yourself on the definitions of harassment as defined by the Vishakha Guidelines and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 – these laws might not always be complied with, but knowing its contents will help you draw your own boundaries. Form your own sisterhood at work. Speak up, look out and believe each other. Our time has come.

*Rs 1,20,000 compounded annually at current FD rates of 7.5% for 25 years

(Rupee Rani is a weekly column on finance for women. Write to us with your queries at rupeerani@thenewsminute.com.)