This week the TUC have published the results of a survey, carried out in conjunction with the Everyday Sexism Project, regarding women’s experience of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The results highlight that sexual harassment may be more prevalent than many would think, and it may go largely unreported. Some of the key findings were that, of the women surveyed:
The survey found that 79% of these women did not report the sexual harassment to their employer, for reasons ranging from embarrassment and fearing they would not be taken seriously, to concerns that it would be detrimental to their career progression or working relationships. While the report focuses on the experiences of women, it also notes that sexual harassment towards men is also a problem and they may feel ashamed to report it.
From a legal perspective, sexual harassment is unlawful in terms of the Equality Act 2010. Sexual harassment includes the following:
Where an employee sexually harasses another, the employer may be liable where the conduct is carried out in the course of employment. Generally, this will mean it occurs at work, although there is scope for argument and this may also include work related events such as work nights out or Christmas parties (depending on the circumstances). The employer can defend such a claim if it can show that it took reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring.
In this regard, it is helpful for employers to have a clear policy which is promoted, applied in practice, enforced stringently and to provide equality training for staff. Ideally, it would be preferable to create an atmosphere and culture in the workplace where harassment and unwanted conduct do not occur. However, where issues of harassment do arise, it is important that they are taken seriously and properly investigated. If it comes to light that an employee is being sexually harassed and no action is taken, it is not sufficient to simply argue that there is an equal opportunities policy in place. Equally, if there is a culture of sexual ‘banter’ in the workplace, again it is not sufficient to claim that an employee appears to join in, or does not seem to object. If these issues are known about they should be dealt with appropriately.