subscribe: Posts | Comments

A workplace should be a harassment-free zone


Unison, survey, public workers, sexual harassment, sexual assault, NHS staff, colleagues, superiors, patients, Section 40, Equality Act 2010Staff should never have to face any kind of abuse, let alone sexually motivated insults and attacks.

Nurses, care assistants, cleaners and other NHS staff have suffered lewd sexual insults, groping and even rape while at work, according to research published by UNISON, the trade union for people working in public services and utilities.

Nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of the healthcare staff who reported harassment said they had been sexually assaulted.

Some had also been the victim of criminal offences such as rape, up-skirting*, indecent exposure or inappropriate touching.

Verbal abuse (64 per cent), such as unwanted remarks and jokes, was the most common complaint, according to the report ‘It’s Never Ok‘, which was released at UNISON’s annual conference in Liverpool.

Being leered at or subjected to offensive ‘banter’ and suggestive gestures were regular occurrences for some of the nearly one in ten (8 per cent) healthcare staff who reported being sexually harassed in the past year.

UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members, over 70 per cent of whom are women. It represents full-time and part-time staff, employed in both the public and private sectors, who provide public services.

The findings in It’s Never Ok were taken from a survey of 8,000 health workers and their experiences at work.

It’s Never Ok revealed that the vast majority of those targeted were women (81 per cent) and incidents mainly involved perpetrators who were older (61 per cent) than their target, and often employed in more powerful roles (37 per cent).

Acts of sexual harassment were most often committed by colleagues (54 per cent), a quarter were committed by other workers (24 per cent), and two fifths (42 per cent) by patients.

Nearly a third (31 per cent) who had been sexually harassed said it had occurred on a regular basis and more than one in ten (12 per cent) weekly or daily.

And it highlights the psychological trauma suffered by the 700 staff who responded to say they had suffered sexual harassment in the past year; some have contemplated suicide, self-harmed or been driven to either leave their job or look for another, which UNISON says adds to the ongoing NHS staffing crisis.

The psychological impact has been devastating for some, It’s Never Ok found.

More than half (55 per cent) ended up isolating themselves or avoiding colleagues/situations at work and more than a third (35 per cent) said the harassment affected their mental health or confidence (34 per cent). Others (40 per cent) have ended up wanting to leave their job.

But more than a quarter (28 per cent) kept quiet about the harassment and only one in five (20 per cent) reported it to human resources or their managers.

Reasons for not reporting included the belief that nothing would be done (49 per cent), that they would be dismissed as oversensitive (37 per cent) or that the perpetrator would retaliate (24 per cent).

Incidents described by survey respondents include: three reports of rape and one involving threats to rape; a team member upskirting a colleague then ‘accidentally’ sending the video to another member of staff; and an employee being sent nude images of colleagues via the online dating app Grindr.

This shows the need for a tougher approach from government against employers who fail to tackle sexual harassment, UNISON said.

The union now wants to see a change in the law so employers are also responsible for protecting their staff against harassment from for example patients or those working for contractors, and is  calling for the reinstatement of Section 40 of the 2010 Equality Act.

In 2013 the government repealed Section 40 of the Equality Act 2010. Section 40 had made employers liable if they had been made aware of three incidents of harassment but had failed to act. In 2018 the Court of Appeal ruled that third party harassment (by patients or contractors) was no longer covered by the Act.

Commenting on the report, UNISON’s assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea, said: “Staff should never have to face any kind of abuse, let alone sexually motivated insults and attacks.

“Many nurses, cleaners and administrative workers feel they have to put up with appalling behaviour as nothing will be done. This is generally because the perpetrators are in a position of power – or believe they are untouchable.

“The workplace should be a harassment-free zone and employers who fail to act should be held to account.”

To read It’s Never Ok, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *