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Why is sexual harassment still so rife?

Recent research, conducted by the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project, found that a staggering 52% of women had experienced sexual harassment at work. This included groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes.

The research highlighted another worrying problem, which is that women who are harassed often feel unable to complain. Many felt reporting the complaint would damage their career prospects.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. If you are treated unfavourably because you submit to or reject such conduct, this can also amount to sexual harassment.

Sadly, it seems there is still a culture where women are expected to put up and shut up. Unfortunately, there are dinosaurs within some organisations who believe that it is a perk of their position to be able to make a pass at colleagues and who are then aghast when their conduct isn’t taken with good humour – after all it’s just banter isn’t it?

Companies need to adopt a robust approach to stamp out such conduct, as ultimately the company can be sued for harassment – whether or not it was aware it was taking place. Introducing a process of anonymous reporting will give companies a true idea of the extent of the problem.

What can you do?

  • Make it clear you find the behaviour unacceptable. Although this is easier said than done, especially when the harasser is your boss.
  • Keep a diary. In my experience, when confronted with such allegations the employers instinctive reaction is to deny all. Having contemporaneous notes of what was said, when as well as noting details of witnesses to the conduct will be helpful – especially when your employer is investigating your grievance and as part of any employment tribunal claim.
  • Speak to others. You may find that the same individual has been harassing others. It’s sensible to make enquires discreetly and sensitively. Ask colleagues if they are prepared to support your complaint. Even if they feel unable to do so, you may still come away with useful information which you can use to support your complaint.
  • Raise a Grievance. If your complaint is not resolved informally. The next step is to put it in writing. Review your employer’s grievance policy – this will detail the steps you need to take to submit a grievance. If your employer has a bullying and harassment policy, you should ensure it deals with your complaint in accordance with that policy.
  • Consider what resolution you are looking for. Of course you want the harassment to stop but you could also ask for the person harassing you to be moved so you do not have to work with him. If your complaint is against your line manager, you could ask to be line managed by someone else. Having to work in an environment where you are being harassed can have a detrimental effect of mental health.
  • Take Legal Action. Ultimately, you can enforce your legal rights by taking your employer and the individual to the employment tribunal. It’s advisable that you seek legal advice as soon as possible.