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Sexual Harassment at Work: Alarming Number of Women Being Harassed in the Workplace

Published 16 August 2016

The shocking extent of sexual harassment of female employees in the workplace has been revealed in a new report (1). More than half of the women (52 per cent) who took part in a study carried out by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) revealed that they had been victim of behaviour ranging from inappropriate comments to sexual assaults while at work.

Among younger women aged 18 to 24 the number who had suffered sexual harassment rose to 63 per cent.

This type of unacceptable behaviour can range from suggestive remarks, jokes about a colleague’s sex life, circulating pornography, to inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing, or demands for sexual favours.

The study revealed almost one in three women (32 per cent) had been subjected to unwanted sexual jokes; more than a quarter (28 per cent) faced comments about their body or clothes; and 12 per cent experienced unwanted sexual touching or an attempt to kiss them.

Worryingly four in five women did not report the incidents out of fear they would not be taken seriously or because it would have an impact on working relationships.

Nearly a fifth of the women quizzed said the perpetrator was their boss or someone in a senior position.

For the victims the behaviour can have a devastating impact and affect their mental health.

Employers should adopt a zero-tolerance approach to any type of harassment or bullying and ensure that clear policies, which have been communicated to all staff are in place to deal with such incidents (2).

The policy should summarise the company’s approach to tackling bullying and harassment (3). Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and it may involve a single incident or be ongoing (4).

For an employer it is important to take all such complaints seriously and to deal with matters without unreasonable delay. Establishing the facts in relation to allegations of this nature can be challenging. It is essential to ensure that any investigation is conducted in a fair manner and with an open mind as getting it wrong can prove costly (5).

The TUC survey (1) looked at the sexual harassment of females in the workplace and spoke to 1,553 women. Earlier this year a similar study (6) revealed that one in 10 complaints of sexual harassment at work are reported by men.

References:

  1. Gibson E. Nearly two in three young women have experienced sexual harassment at work, TUC survey reveals [Internet]. TUC. 2016 [cited 2016 Aug 16]. Available from: https://www.tuc.org.uk/equality-issues/sexual-harassment/gender-equality/nearly-two-three-young-women-have-experienced
  2. ACAS. Bullying and Harassment: A Guide for Managers and Employers [Internet]. ACAS. [cited 2016 Aug 16]. Available from: http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/l/r/Bullying_and_harassment_employer_2010-accessible-version-July-2011.pdf
  3. Health and Safety Executive. Bullying and harassment - Advice for organisations [Internet]. Health and Safety Executive. [cited 2016 Aug 16]. Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/furtheradvice/bullying.htm
  4. Citizens Advice. Sexual harassment - Citizens Advice [Internet]. Citizens Advice. [cited 2016 Aug 16]. Available from: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/discrimination/what-are-the-different-types-of-discrimination/sexual-harassment/
  5. BBC News. Helen Marks awarded £832,711 by employment tribunal [Internet]. BBC News. 2016 [cited 2016 Aug 16]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-35581737
  6. McDonald P. Men are targets of sexual harassment at work far more commonly than we assume [Internet]. LSE Business Review. 2016 [cited 2016 Aug 16]. Available from: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2016/03/24/men-are-targets-of-sexual-harassment-at-work-far-more-commonly-than-we-assume/

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