12 August, 2016
A recent study has revealed that 52% of women surveyed have suffered some form of sexual harassment whilst at work. The Trades Union Congress and Everyday Sexism Project conducted the surveys which found that more than half of the women asked had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work, including comments about their bodies, inappropriate jokes and even sexual advances.
Amongst those surveyed in the 16-24 age category, the proportion reporting sexual harassment was even higher, at 63%. Even more concerning is that approximately 1 in 8 women described behaviours towards them which would qualify as criminal sexual assault and the majority of participants stated that they did not and would not report such incidents to their employers in fear of the repercussions - that it might harm their relationships at work, or that they would not be taken seriously.
The law on sexual harassment in the workplace is clear - unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating working environment for its victim must not be tolerated by employers, who might ultimately be deemed vicariously liable for such actions committed by their employees in the course of their employment. Examples of unacceptable conduct include personal comments of a sexual nature, unwelcome attention or suggestive behaviours. Such harassment might take place over a period, or, if sufficiently serious, consist of one single incident. Women who are subject to such treatment are additionally protected under the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits discriminatory, detrimental treatment on the grounds of sex.
Employers should ensure that they have in place appropriate policies which state that such behaviour in the workplace will not be tolerated, encouraging employees to report such instances of behaviour and establishing firmly the potential disciplinary implications for those who are in breach of those standards.
For advice and assistance on sexual and other forms of harassment in the workplace, please contact a member of the Forbes Employment & Education Team on 01772 220 263.