The ongoing controversy over the allegations against Harvey Weinstein in relation to historic and current sexual harassment taking place in the movie industry has brought the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace to the fore.
Many people have been shocked that in 2017 these activities are alleged to have continued within the entertainment industry, some have questioned why these women did not speak out earlier.
However, sexual harassment occurs in all sectors and industries on a near daily basis, with many of those subjected to harassment being too scared to tell others what has happened, in fear of how it will affect their role and environment at work.
A collaborative study between the Trades Union Congress and Everyday Sexism Project published last year reported that of those women polled, 52% had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the work place.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly 80% did not report the harassment to their employer and the majority of those who did said that nothing changed. Following incidences of harassment, most women reported feeling embarrassed or avoiding certain work situations but others identified mental or physical health problems as a result.
In Britain, the Equality Act 2010 (EQA) protects workers and employees from harassment in the work place.
The harassment can be from managers or co-workers. Section 26(2)(a) of the EQA 2010 states that unwanted conduct of a sexual nature resulting in a violation of the recipient’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile or humiliating environment for the recipient is harassment.
The harassment can be verbal (e.g. comments about appearance), non-verbal (e.g. display of sexually explicit materials) or physical (e.g. touching).
If you feel that you are being sexually harassed at work, it is worth confiding in someone that you trust. Initially, this may be someone outside of work to ensure that you receive support.
You may also consider making a formal complaint (i.e. a grievance) to your manager or to your Human Resources team (HR). Your manager/HR should then undertake a formal investigation into the allegations. It is likely they will need to speak to the person you have made the complaint against, but they should not discuss the issue with your other colleagues.
They should take steps to ensure that the harassment cannot continue to occur and that you are made to feel safe at work.
Perhaps in recognition of the difficulties faced by victims in responding to harassment, current legislation, namely section 26(3)(c) of the EQA 2010, states that if you do submit to the conduct (e.g. kiss a colleague following a request from them to do so because you felt pressured or intimidated), then you are not allowed to be treated less favourably than if you refused the kiss, i.e. did not submit to the conduct.
One of the clear points made in recent news stories is that victims of sexual harassment often find it difficult to come forward and talk about their experiences.
This is completely understandable. If you have been subjected to sexual harassment, you do not need to confront your harasser, you can speak to management/HR in confidence.
You should consider keeping a log of instances of sexual harassment so that you are clear and precise when speaking to management/HR, as it can be difficult to speak to others about issues which are often sensitive and emotionally disturbing.
You may wish also to seek out any confidential counselling services offered by your employer.
Although the recent media attention has focussed on harassment suffered by females in the workplace, this is a problem that affects people of all genders.
The recent disclosures of those affected by sexual harassment and highlighted by the media may encourage other employees and workers to take action against sexual harassment in the workplace.
It is worth remembering that sexual harassment is never the fault of the those who have to suffer it.