In this day and age, it is perhaps shocking to learn that over 60% of women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. The seriousness of the harassment ranges from groping to inappropriate comments a study has revealed.
In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement in response to the allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour from the American film producer, Harvey Weinstein, a plethora of employers across the UK found themselves, with a sense of panic and urgency trying to respond to allegations of sexual harassment from employees in their businesses.
However, almost three years later, it seems old fashioned sexist attitudes are alive and well in workplaces up and down the country where a hand on the knee or a pat on the bottom is a common occurrence. Sexual harassment aimed at women in the 16-24-year-old age range is particularly problematic, affecting over 63% of those surveyed.
However, across the board, over 25% of women stated that a colleague, often a senior manager, had made an inappropriate pass at them at some point during their career.
Perhaps most concerning is that only around 20% of women experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace feel comfortable enough to report it to their HR team or a senior manager.
Whilst men can also be subject to sexual harassment; women report the vast majority of cases against men.
Given that ACAS reported in 2018 that 92% of people know that sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful, it begs the question, why is it still so prevalent?
UK employment law is very clear, "sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010". Sexual harassment is any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature, and even a one-off incident can amount to harassment under discrimination laws. It is important to remember that an individual does not have to intend to harass another; it is the interpretation and how it makes the recipient feel, which is the key in these cases.
Additionally, the behaviour does not have to be directed at one particular person in order for an individual to feel harassed, for example, a colleague overhearing a sexist comment that is not directed at them could take offence and feel that they have been subjected to harassment.
Tina Chander, Head of Employment Law at Wright Hassall comments "We have calls from employees who are dealing with some severe cases of sexual harassment in their workplace, making them feel threatened and uncomfortable. It seems to be a persistent behaviour, and they do not know how to make it stop.
It is a widespread issue across all businesses, and it can happen to men, women and people of any gender or sexual orientation. Perhaps, the most alarming thing is that employees don't feel they can report the behaviour to their employer for fear of retribution either from their employer or from the perpetrator.
In some of our cases, women have reported the behaviour, and then been made to feel that they in some way, caused the issue because of the clothes they were wearing or the way they carried themselves around colleagues.
It is genuinely shocking, but some of the incidents of sexual harassment our clients discuss with us are actually significant enough to be considered sexual assault by law, which shows how serious the issue is. It is not something that can be brushed under the carpet and labelled as harmless banter.
From a legal perspective, there are steps we can take. Still, it is equally important for employees who are being or have been sexually harassed to ensure they have the support they need to cope with the emotional side of the negative experience. Many employees find the harassment can affect their confidence and mental health, so we like to guide clients to charities who offer professional support."