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Sexual harassment at work still an issue

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sexual harassment at work, survey, TUC, everday sexism projectEmployers need to take sexual harassment in the workplace seriously.

More than half (52 per cent) of women, and nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of women aged 18-24 years old, said they have experienced sexual harassment at work, according to new research from the TUC and the Everyday Sexism Project that has just been published.

The study is the largest of its kind for a generation and cited by leading academic Dr Jane Pilliger as one of the most extensive pieces of research on sexual harassment at work in Europe.

It was carried out by YouGov and is based on the opinions of women who are working or who have ever had a job, and agreed to be surveyed about this topic and taken from an overall sample of British adults.

Sexual harassment at work can take many forms, from suggestive remarks, jokes about a colleague’s sex life, circulating pornography, to inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing, or demands for sexual favours.

The study revealed that of those surveyed:

nearly one in three (32 per cent) of women have been subject to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature while at work;

more than one in four (28 per cent) of women have been the subject of comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes at work;

nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of women have experienced unwanted touching – like a hand on the knee or lower back at work;

a fifth (20 per cent) of women have experienced unwanted verbal sexual advances at work; and

around one in eight (12 per cent) women have experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them at work.

In the vast majority of cases (88 per cent), the perpetrator of the sexual harassment was male, and nearly one in five (17 per cent) women reported that it was their line manager, or someone with direct authority over them.

The survey, published in a joint report with the Everyday Sexism Project called ‘Still just a bit of banter?’, also finds that around four out of five (79 per cent) women who said they experienced sexual harassment at work did not tell their employer about what was happening.

Of this group, some thought reporting it would impact negatively on their relationships at work (28 per cent) or on their career prospects (15 per cent), while others were too embarrassed to talk about it (20 per cent) or felt they would not be believed or taken seriously (24 per cent).

The study is also the first to include the opinion of women who identify as black, minority and ethnic origin (BME) who say they have been harassed at work. More than half (52 per cent) said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

To read ‘Still just a bit of banter?’ click here.

The TUC’s General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “How many times do we still hear that sexual harassment in the workplace is just a bit of ‘banter’?

“Let’s be clear – sexual harassment is undermining, humiliating and can have a huge effect on mental health. Victims are often left feeling ashamed and frightened.

“It has no place in a modern workplace, or in wider society.

“Employers must be clear they have a zero tolerance attitude to sexual harassment and treat any complaint seriously.

“It’s a scandal that so few women feel their bosses are dealing with the issue properly.

“Anyone worried about inappropriate behaviour at work should join a union to make sure they are protected and respected at work.”

The TUC and the Everyday Sexism Project are calling on the government to take action against sexual harassment and adopt a series of measures including:

Abolishing employment tribunal fees to give more people access to justice – it currently costs £1,200 to take a case to court;

reinstating provisions in the Equality Act which placed a duty on employers to protect workers from third party harassment – perpetrators of sexual harassment are often customers, clients or patients, who women working in sectors like retail, hospitality, healthcare, care and transport deal with on a daily basis.

They currently have little protection from their employer when facing harassment, so reintroducing a duty on employers to act where an employee is being harassed by a third party would be an important step in tackling workplace sexual harassment;

Giving employment tribunals the power to make wider recommendations – employment tribunals used to have the power to make recommendations for the benefit of the wider workforce, not just the individual claimant, in relation to discrimination claims.

In workplaces where a culture of harassment has been allowed to flourish or where organisations have failed to respond adequately to complaints of harassment, the power to make wider recommendations would be of great benefit;

Giving union equality reps full recognition and facility time; and

Extending the full range of statutory employment rights to all workers, regardless of employment status or type of contract, to ensure that women on zero-hours contracts or agency workers are protected in the workplace.

The TUC has also published a ‘Know Your Rights’ leaflet about sexual harassment, which is available here, and a guide for union reps, which is available here.

The TUC also wants employers to take the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace seriously and to ensure robust policies and training are in place to protect staff.

In response to these findings, the Everyday Sexism Project is launching a new platform, www.shoutingback.org.uk which will bring together in one place for the first time information about legal rights, reporting options and available support for women experiencing workplace sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination and abuse.

Laura Bates, founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, said: “Many people would like to think that workplace sexual harassment is a thing of the past.

“In reality, it is alive and well, and having a huge impact on tens of thousands of women’s lives.

“These findings reveal the shameful extent of the problem and the reality of the touching, unwanted advances, and inappropriate comments women find themselves confronted with while simply trying to do their jobs.

“This is shameful behaviour that has no place in 2016 and employers need to take urgent action to tackle the problem.”

You are protected from sexual harassment in the workplace by the Equality Act 2010, the TUC points out.

It does not matter how long you have worked for your employer or whether you are a permanent employee, an apprentice or trainee, on a fixed-term contract or supplied by an agency, you are still protected by this legislation.

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