TUC Survey Reveals 52% Of Women Have Been Sexually Harrassed At Work

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The Law Of... stamping out sexual harassment in the workplace

Research by the TUC found that a startling 52% of women who responded to their survey experienced sexual harassment at work – some of whom were too frightened and ashamed to report these instances.

Stamping out sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment and discrimination comes in many forms, and can range from offensive verbal comments to more serious – and in some cases violent – physical abuse. Victims can, unfortunately, find themselves subjected to different types of harassment, including:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Derogatory comments about a woman's appearance
  • Lewd remarks or gestures

Frances O'Grady, the head of TUC, emphasised the need for tougher action on harassment from employers and the government, questioning why this type of behaviour hasn't yet been "stamped out".

She also condemned such behaviour as unlawful and "designed to humiliate and undermine women" as well as being "bad for our mental health."

Exposing The Truth

Unfortunately, sexual harassment at work is widespread and, in many workplaces, is not taken seriously by employers.

1,500 women took part in the survey, which found that:

  • In 9 out of 10 cases of sexual harassment the perpetrator was male, and around 17% of women said that these acts were committed by someone with direct authority over them
  • 79% of women who were victims of sexual harassment admitted that they didn't inform their employer – with 28% stating that they didn't want to affect their work relationships and 15% confessing that they didn’t want to damage their career prospects
  • Around 24% of respondents also confessed that they feared they wouldn't be taken seriously if they reported harassment
  • 63% of women surveyed who were aged between 18-24 reported the highest occurrences of sexual harassment
  • A third of women reported that they had been subjected to unwanted physical touching and inappropriate jokes from their colleagues

Many of the younger women were employed on temporary agency or zero-hour contracts or held junior positions – these are all factors that, as suggested by the TUC, may contribute to sexual harassment.

As Linda Stewart - Partner and Head of Employment Law at Simpson Millar points out, "Both the government and employers should treat cases of harassment very seriously and look at more effective methods of establishing a culture of equality in the workplace."

Seeking Justice

Initiatives to empower women to share their experiences of sexual harassment have been established, such as the Everyday Sexism Project, which seeks to catalogue the types and frequency of sexual harassment faced by employees.

This also offers victims of harassment a form of catharsis, helping them to come to terms with what is a traumatic and distressing experience.

Women, of course, aren't the only ones who face discrimination or sexual harassment at work, and more and more cases have also emerged of male workers being harassed by their colleagues.

Linda comments:

"It's incredibly disturbing that sexual harassment and discrimination are rife in the workplace in this day and age. What's even more concerning is that victims are too scared of the consequences of reporting these crimes."

"Women are often made to feel at fault, and can be branded ‘humourless or hysterical’ by their colleagues for having reported sexual harassment. It takes a great deal of courage for victims to come forward, and those who do report these occurrences often go on to find themselves passed over for promotion or are first to be selected for redundancy. Employers, including those who operate ‘zero tolerance’ policies, repeatedly fail to deal with the crux of the problem, i.e. the perpetrators."

"Naming and shaming employers against whom sexual harassment claims have been pursued in the Employment Tribunal might also assist employers take appropriate steps to stamp out harassment. This will soon become easier: HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has announced that new employment tribunal decisions will be made publicly available online from Autumn 2016, allowing the public – i.e. victims of workplace sexual harassment – to search for first-instance judgments from England, Wales, and Scotland and identify repeat offenders."

"The fact is that individuals who commit these offences are breaking the law, and their behaviour should not go unnoticed. Discrimination and harassment in the workplace are unacceptable. If you have experienced such treatment, you may wish to raise it with your union rep, if you have one. If you are not a union member, you might consider joining one – if possible. Alternatively, one of our Employment Law specialists may be able to help you."

To find out how we could help you please make a no-obligation enquiry or call freephone: 0808 129 3320.

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