No sex please- we’re at work.

Some things never change.  Perhaps in a sexually permissive society it is inevitable that there will be a high level of sexual harassment at work.  A recent survey found that over half of women at work have to deal with the problem.  A third had been the subject of unwelcome personal jokes and a quarter had experienced unwanted touching.

In 9 out of 10 cases the harasser was male.  In 17% of cases the women said it was their line manager or someone with authority over them.  This adds in the factor of abuse of power and also makes it harder for the victim to do anything about it.  It can be a source of misery, worry, frustration and fear, and usually at work it is not possible to avoid contact and walk away.

Perhaps the most significant finding was that 79% of women who said they were victims of sexual harassment did not tell their employer.  This of course means that the employer may not realise and get the chance to sort it out.  As with any bullying, a reason for not reporting it includes fear that it will make things worse.  Think about it: often it would mean a woman reporting harassment to a male manager, who may well be a fellow-manager of the harasser.  How understanding and confidential can he be trusted to be?  Nearly a quarter of those who did not report harassment said it was because they felt they would not be believed or taken seriously and one fifth of them said they were just too embarrassed.  To complain makes it even harder to walk back into work.

Again unsurprisingly, it is young women who are more likely to be harassed, attractiveness and lack of resistance being the likely factors.  Nearly two thirds of the women surveyed who were aged between 18 and 24 said they had been sexually harassed at work – that is extraordinarily high.  As younger workers they were also more likely to be in junior roles and less powerful.  The sexual harassment included comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes, unwanted verbal sexual advances and about 12% experienced sexual touching or attempts to kiss them.

The basic advice to those who suffer sex discrimination or sexual harassment at work is to not put up with it – easy to say, but it will almost certainly just get worse.

  • The first thing to consider is to tell the person to stop, they may not even realise it is not welcome.
  • Then tell a manager, put this in writing and keep a copy.
  • Then talk to HR or a trade union.
  • Then get professional advice or speak to the CAB.
  • At the same time keep a written record/diary of any incidents, including time, date and location, what was said or done, who was involved and any witnesses.
  • If informally raising the matter is unsuccessful, put it in a written complaint to the employer.

None of this however will prevent the reality that it takes a lot of guts to complain, it may make the situation worse and the wisest move can sometimes be to get another job and leave if you can.  If you do, take legal advice, as a claim can be threatened, sometimes money is paid to settle the matter and anyway an uncomfortably clear letter from a good solicitor will make sure that those at the top of the business or organization know what is happening in the work place.  Most will not be stupid enough to ignore such a letter and the harassing manager may well be internally called to account.

If you are concerned about this sort of behavior, whether it is you or someone else, male or female, do give me a ring and we can discuss what can be done.  It is a gloomy thought, but it does not take much sense to realise that the rise and rise of the viewing of porn by young men almost certainly means that sexual harassment at work will be even more common.  Apologies to all of you lovely men – still the vast majority -who would not dream of such behavior and anyway don’t need to take advantage.

Frances.

 

Frances Barker
Employment Partner
Blocks Solicitors
01473 343911