The statistics

Of the 1,500 women surveyed by the TUC and the Everyday Sexism Project, 52% indicated that they had been sexually harassed at work. This figure rose to 63% for women aged between 18 and 24.

17% reported that it was their line manager or supervisor who had harassed them.

79% of these women did not tell their employer. Reasons included a fear that reporting would affect their relationships at work (28%) or their career prospects (15%); while others thought that they would not be believed or taken seriously (24%); or were too embarrassed to talk about it (20%).

The full results of the survey are available here.

The law on harassment

Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone's dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

Sexual harassment at work can take many forms. Of those surveyed 32% reported being subjected to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature and 23% had experienced unwanted touching.

Harassment can arise from a one off incident and can occur whether or not the harasser intends to cause offence.

Employers are liable for discriminatory harassment by their employees ifit occurs 'in the course of employment', even if it is done without their knowledge or approval. This can extend to events happening outside of work such as office parties and away days.The employer will not be liable though if it can show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from carrying out the harass mentor from doing anything of that description.

What steps can employers take to prevent sexual harassment at work?

Employers should take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment at work, for example:

  1. Have appropriate policies in place including an equal opportunities policy; an anti-harassment and bullying policy; and a social media policy;
  2. Ensure that the policies deal with potential harassment by third parties (e.g. customers and clients) as well as colleagues;
  3. Keep these policies up-to-date and review them regularly;
  4. Make all employees aware of relevant policies and procedures and the consequences of breaching them;
  5. Remind employees of the need for appropriate behaviour in advance of work social events;
  6. Deal effectively with complaints and take appropriate disciplinary action;
  7. Train managers and supervisors in equal opportunities and harassment issues;
  8. Adopt a zero-tolerance approach to objectionable language and behaviour;
  9. Ensure the physical environment is free from material which may be considered to amount to harassment.

If you would like assistance in designing policies or delivering training, please get in touch.