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Law Change would be 'Game-Changer' on Workplace Sexual Harassment

16 Nov 2017

Sexual Harassment

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has informed Minister for Employment Affairs Regina Doherty that an amendment to existing legislation would ensure stronger protection for people suffering workplace sexual harassment and help remove barriers to the reporting of abuse.

The Congress proposal would see reports of sexual harassment elevated to the status of ‘protected disclosures’ - as opposed to ‘workplace grievances’ - thereby ensuring stronger protection and reporting mechanisms for those submitting complaints.

Congress General Secretary Patricia King described the proposed change as “a potential game changer and a major step forward for those suffering such abuse.”

In a letter to Minister Doherty, Ms King set out the case for a change to existing legislation:

“The Employment Equality Act (1998) adequately defines sexual harassment. It clearly identifies that such harassment constitutes discrimination and, as such, is contrary to the law. However it stipulates that any infringement is regarded as a ‘grievance’ and therefore a worker is obliged to submit any such complaint or claim directly to the employer only.”

The letter notes that this a matter of grave concern for workers “who find themselves in this appalling predicament as very often the perpetrator can be the most senior ranked person in the employment and the fear of retribution may very well be realised.”

This can result in workers who “suffer in silence or are forced to make other work arrangements,” Ms King explained.

The Congress proposition would see the current law amended to include provisions set out in the Protected Disclosures Act (2014), giving any such complaints the status of protected disclosures, suggesting that bodies such as the Workplace Relations’ Commission or the Health & Safety Authority could be among the bodies prescribed in law to receive such disclosures.

It would also cover disclosures made in the course of obtaining advice or assistance from a trade union official, barrister or solicitor.

“Given all of the above and the serious nature and consequences of sexual harassment we are of the view that the status elevation from ‘workplace grievance’ to ‘protected disclosure’ is deserved and may also act as a stronger deterrent to such despicable and shameful behaviour,” the Congress letter to Minister Doherty points out.

“I would appeal to you to give this matter your urgent attention and positive consideration,” Ms King concluded.