Sexual harassment in the workplace
The BBC’s Radio 5 Live survey, of 2,031 British adults, found that 37% of all those asked had experienced sexual harassment at work or a place of study.
53% of those women surveyed, and 20% of those men surveyed, confirmed that they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace or within a place of study, often the result of inappropriate touching, comments, non-verbal acts, jokes and banter related to sex. More worryingly, the survey revealed that one in 10 women had been sexually assaulted and that more women than men were targeted by their bosses or other senior managers. The unwanted conduct resulted in one in 10 women leaving their jobs due to the devastating effects of sexual harassment which include anxiety, depression, fear and loss of confidence. However, 63% of the women victims surveyed confirmed that they didn’t even report incidents of sexual harassment and 79% of the male victims kept the unlawful acts to themselves.
Last year, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) also conducted a survey of 1,500 women, of which 52% said that they had been sexually harassed at work. Most did not report it through fear of it affecting their relationships at work, their career prospects or simply fear of not being believed. A third of those surveyed had been subjected to unwelcome jokes and a quarter had experienced unwanted touching.
This is certainly a widespread issue for employers who should:
- Create a culture in which it is clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
- Ensure that a sexual harassment policy is in place.
- Provide training on the procedures in the sexual harassment policy and ensure that the policy is effectively communicated at all levels.
- Provide all employees with a workable and reasonable complaints procedure.
- Keep reports of all complaints of sexual harassment.
- Carryout a proper investigation following a complaint of sexual harassment.
- Take appropriate action, in accordance with disciplinary policies and procedures, against the perpetrator where necessary.
An employer will not be successful in preventing all claims of sexual harassment in the workplace. However, if the workplace environment is directed toward preventing sexual harassment, and if strong policies and procedures are followed, the number of claims will be reduced and the prospects of successfully defending a claim increased. Employers should seek expert legal advice on how to effectively deal with situations of sexual harassment in the workplace.
When faced with a situation of sexual harassment / discrimination, employees should seek expert legal advice, as soon as possible, on how best to resolve the situation with their employer. If the matter cannot be resolved, the employee should seek advice on their potential claims and their prospects of success. In a successful claim, a tribunal may make one or more of the following awards; a declaration of the rights of the parties, an appropriate recommendation as to what steps the employer should take to reduce the adverse effect of discrimination on the employee or an order for the employer to pay compensation to the employee. Compensation is nearly always awarded in successful cases of discrimination and the award is uncapped and so can be substantial.
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