The TUC has issued a Report , in association with the Everyday Sexism Project, which demonstrates that sexual harassment in the workplace is still a major issue.
More than half – 52% of women surveyed stated that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment related to work. 80% of these incidents had occurred in the workplace itself, although harassment also occurred on social occasions such as at Christmas parties .
The most common behaviour experienced was hearing comments of a sexual nature about other women (or women generally), which was reported by 35% of respondents. Worryingly, however, more than 10% stated that they had experienced attempts at what would amount to sexual assualt and more than a quarter reported incidents of inappropriate touching (e.g. on the knee or lower back but not “intimate” areas.)
79% of those affected had not reported the matter to their employer. Of those who did, more (16%) considered that they had been treated worse by their employer after the incident than thought that they had been treated better (10%.)
9 out of 10 of the perpetrators were male and 1 in 5 was the employee’s direct manager or report.
7% had experienced harassment in the workplace by third parties such as customers.
The Report stresses that even if perpetrators think that what they are doing is “just banter”, if the conduct is unwanted then this is no defence and that it creates an intimidating and unacceptable atmosphere for employees regardless of whether there is any malice.
Among the recommendations are the abolition of Employment Tribunal Fees, the reintroduction of statutory discrimination questionnaires and the reversal of the repeal of the legislation potentially making employers liable for harassment by third parties. Given the Government’s view that Tribunal Claims are a burden on businesses it is highly unlikely that any of this will happen in the foreseeable future.
Employers are liable for harassment by their employees where this is in the course of their employment (which is likely to include where it occurs at work related social events) subject to there being a defence if all reasonable steps have been taken to prevent the harassment. Quite apart of course from legal liability potentially arising (for unlimited amounts, including significant compensation for injury to feelings) employers will want to have a suitable working environment for their employees and will not want to lose good employees who are unable to put up with this sort of behaviour.
- Make clear that a culture of harassment or sexual “banter” is not permitted.
- Have a written Equal Opportunities Policy making clear what sort of conduct will not be tolerated and ensure that employees are aware of the contents of the Policy.
- Actually enforce the Policy.
- Provide training where appropriate, especially to managers.
- Ensure that complaints about sexual harassment are always taken seriously.