New research on sexual harassment in the workplace
You would be mistaken to think that Sexual Harassment in the workplace amongst women has decreased in recent years, as recent figures from a study conducted by the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project show the exact opposite, with 2/3 of women aged 18-24 stating they have been Sexually Harassed.
According to the survey of 1,553 women, 1 in 8 reported they had been on the receiving end of unwanted touching of genitals, breasts and their bottom including advances to kissing. One fifth of the women reported that they had been subjected to harassment by their boss or someone with authority over them. Despite these shocking findings, 4 in 5 of the women surveyed said they not reported the incidents due to fears it would harm their relationships and situation at work because their claims would not be taken seriously.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Harassment involves “unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an offensive, intimidating or hostile environment”. In practice, Sexual Harassment takes the form of inappropriate suggestive comments, jokes about an individual’s sex life or sexual touching, the circulation of pornography in the office or workplace, and demands for sexual favours.
The Labour party supports the survey by TUC, following the outcome that it has produced some of the most informative results on the subject in recent years. Similarly, the party champions the movement to re-introduce parts of the Equality Act 2010 that deals specifically with Sexual Harassment in the workplace.
Is an employer liable for the sexual harassment of its employees?
If an employee is sexually harassed by a colleague in the workplace then in short, the answer is yes. Often the first an employer knows about harassment is when an employee puts in a written grievance or goes off sick with stress. By this stage, it may be too late to avoid liability. A tribunal claim for discrimination under the Equality Act can cost a business a lot of time, money and reputational damage as well as a knock on impact to staff morale and difficulty in recruitment. Some organisations who apply for work via tenders could find that a history of claims for discrimination can prevent them from being successful at the PQQ stage.
Practical steps an employer can take to reduce the risk of a costly claim:
- Create a culture of respect and dignity in the workplace and don’t condone bad behaviour.
- Ensure employees are given a staff handbook, including policies on equal opportunities and harassment, making clear what is considered acceptable behaviour and what is not.
- Provide training on anti- harassment measures. This may help managers avoid inappropriate questions at interviews, or to recognise and deal with harassment at an early stage.
- Have a clear bullying and harassment and grievance procedure for employees to raise concerns and complaints, and for dealing with complaints. Ensure discriminatory behaviour is not tolerated and is dealt with through proper disciplinary measures.
- Review employment contracts and policies to ensure they comply with the law.
One thing the survey does show is that Sexual Harassment is still very much alive, especially for women. It would be interesting to see if a survey emerges for men in the workplace regarding this subject, and what their experiences have been.
What is your personal experience? have you ever been the victim of Sexual Harassment, or Harassment in general where you work?