Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

8 Nov 2017

Sexual Harassment

Unfortunately, the issue of sexual harassment has been in the news of late and for many women it is all too commonplace at work. A glimpse at the “Me too” and “Everyday Sexism” social media accounts will illustrate just how pervasive it is.

In fact a 2016 survey by our colleagues in the TUC found that more than half (52%) of women, and nearly two-thirds (63%) of women aged 18-24 years old, said they have experienced sexual harassment at work.  There is no reason to imagine that very different results would be found here.

Sexual harassment is defined in the Employment Equality Act as any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. And that such conduct has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.

The definition is deliberately wide and harassment can take many forms, from suggestive remarks, jokes about a colleague’s sex life, circulating pornography, to inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing, or demands for sexual favours. It can clearly include all forms of communication such as social media.

According to the TUC survey, in the vast majority of cases (88%), the perpetrator of the sexual harassment was male, and nearly one in five (17%) women reported that it was their line manager or someone with direct authority over them.

Trade unions are very clear that it is completely unacceptable with victims often left feeling ashamed and frightened and experiencing mental health difficulties. 

That is why in 2002 we negotiated with IBEC the “CODE OF PRACTICE ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND HARASSMENT AT WORK”, which was revised in 2012.  The code explains in great detail what harassment is, the impact on individuals and the adverse consequences on employers in terms of possible impacts on profitability where staff take sick leave or resign posts because of sexual harassment.  It goes on to point out that the best way to minimise such behaviour in the workplace is through preventive measures and to create an effective policy with a strong commitment to implementing it.  The core elements of such a policy and implementation steps are further outlined in great detail.  

Has your workplace such a policy?  If not, talk to your union rep and use the code to help inform the development of one in your workplace today.

Finally, anyone worried about inappropriate behaviour at work should join a trade union to make sure they are protected and respected. This is shameful behaviour that has no place in modern workplaces and we all need to redouble our efforts to tackle the problem.