More than half of women are sexually harassed each year* in what should be a safe place, the workplace. And many of these just feel forced to accept this as part and parcel of working life.
This is despite sexual harassment being unlawful under equality law in the UK.
Any one of us could be subject to sexual harassment and as the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s recent research shows, women and men of all ages, working in all sectors across GB have experienced this. . You may even manage someone or have witnessed a colleague being sexually harassed and not known how to respond.
We heard from employees who described reporting sexual harassment only to be told it was their “own fault for wearing tight clothing” or “‘Well you know how he is, just stay out of his way”.
The effect on individual’s lives can be devastating. As well as the humiliation, a fear of coming to work and feelings of powerlessness, employees told us about being forced out of work and their mental and physical health suffering.
You might ask yourself why over half the people we spoke to said they didn’t want to report sexual harassment and hadn’t reported their experience of harassment to anyone in the workplace. Their reasons can be complex and included:
- the view that raising the issue was useless as the organisation did not take the issue seriously
- a belief that alleged perpetrators, particularly senior staff, would be protected
- fear of victimisation, and
- a lack of appropriate reporting procedures.
We want to change workplace cultures so employees feel confident speaking to their manager or HR representative about this unacceptable behaviour and without fearing negative repercussions. Or where they don’t feel comfortable doing this, being able to raise issues anonymously via online reporting mechanisms.
The Equality and Human Right Commission has put together some practical guidance for employers that should help managers in situations like this. Steps employers can take include:
- Developing a robust anti-harassment policy with zero tolerance for sexual harassment that is communicated to all staff
- Promoting reporting channels for all staff including agency workers and contractors
- Surveying staff as part of a regular check to gauge their understanding of the workplace policy
We also hope that the government shows clear leadership on this issue and takes action without delay to implement our recommendations for change; promoting transparency on this issue, strengthening legal protections and transforming workplace cultures. We need action in all three areas to turn the tables in British workplaces; shifting from the current situation where individuals risk their jobs and health to report and putting the onus on employers to effectively prevent and tackle harassment. The time for meaningful action is now and yes #timesup.
Visit https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/turning-tables-ending-sexual-harassment-work for more information.
*Trade Union Congress 2016 poll.