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Just a Bit of Banter – Research highlights worrying scale of sexual harassment in the UK workplace.

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“Just a Bit of Banter” – Study Reveals 52% of Women Sexually Harassed

A recent study commissioned by the Trades Union Congress reveals that we are not living in the enlightened and gender balanced times we might imagine for ourselves.

Just a Bit of Banter

The TUC’s findings are in line with those published in March of this year by the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition. EVAW published a survey of British women’s experience of sexual harassment in public places, which found that 85 per cent of women aged 18–24 had experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places and 45 per cent have experienced unwanted sexual touching.
So far from reducing a problem that we’ve been well aware of for many years it seems that the problem has taken hold in the workplace.

The very aptly titled “Still Just a Bit of Banter” report commissioned by the TUC surveyed 1,553 women; the key findings are listed below;

* More than half (52%) of all women polled have experienced some form of sexual harassment.
* 35% of women have heard comments of a sexual nature being made about other women in the workplace.
* 32% of women have been subject to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature.
* 28% of women have been subject to comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes.
* Nearly 1/4 of women have experienced unwanted touching (such as a hand on the knee or lower back).
* 1/5 of women have experienced unwanted sexual advances.
* More than one in ten women reported experiencing unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them.
* In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator was a male colleague, with nearly one in five reporting that their direct manager or someone else with direct authority over them was the perpetrator.
* Four out of five women did not report the sexual harassment to their employer.

What constitutes Sexual Harassment? Bullying and harassment is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. Specifically, sexual harassment is behaviour that attacks a person’s dignity often resulting in an intimidating or hostile environment”. It’s a form of bullying or “power play” that the originator of the act uses to benefit their standing either personally or amongst colleagues. The delivery can be in many forms from inappropriate jokes, suggestive comments of a person’s appearance, their personal life, circulation of inappropriate material or more direct physical contact.
What of the Employers Liability?
If a successful claim of sexual harassment is brought against an employee the employer has failed in its duty to protect the claimant. They are therefore liable for the damages regardless of what action they may take against the guilty member of staff. The costs can go far beyond the financial impact in such cases as the reputation of a company can be tarnished by such matters with the leadership and culture of the business being called into question.
These negative outcomes can also impact future recruitment and the relationship with customers.


Why Do So Few Women Fail to Report Incidents?
This is due in the most part to the governments introduction of tribunal fees alongside the potential claimants fear of ‘not being heard’. The removal of tribunal fees remains a possibility however regardless of such a move employers need to note such statistics and not be complacent.


What Can Employers Do?
Very often the cause of such offensive behaviour and acts is due to a cultural and endemic attitude to women in the workplace. If you believe there is such a problem or potential for such a culture to emerge it must be addressed. This can be achieved by creating a positive culture of respect endorsed by the proactive investigation and public disciplining of any reported acts.
Training is always a good way to bring out issues that otherwise may go unspoken. This should be at ALL levels not just managers. Using examples, case studies of similar organisations and how they have been guilty or successful in their approach will help highlight the appropriate ways to behave at work and the consequences if they transgress. If not already present it should be introduced into the staff induction.

Policies and procedures need to be up to date and written in plain language for all to understand.

Early notification is key and a policy to enable “whistleblowing” all important. No one should fear for their job if a boss is behaving badly.
The focus of the survey was women but men can also suffer from sexual harassment. Whatever the gender or sexual orientation ALL staff can be on the receiving end of unwanted, hurtful or inappropriate acts. Employers should therefore ensure that any communication either verbal or written covers these eventualities. In concluding the report, the TUC made a number of recommendations both for the government and employers.
TUC Recommendations for government;
* Abolition of employment tribunal fees
* Reinstatement of third party harassment legislation
* Reinstatement of employment tribunal powers to make wider recommendations
* Reinstatement of Statutory Equality Questionnaire
* Recognition and facility time for union equality reps
* Extend full range of statutory employment rights to all workers, regardless of employment status or type of contract.
TUC Recommendations for employers;
* Decent jobs
* Training
* Clear policies
* Implementation and enforcement of policies.
* Recommendations for trade unions
* Training
* Workplace campaigns
* Negotiating workplace policies

View the full report here –

For more information on how you can prevent Sexual Harassment in the workplace or advice on dealing with a matter involving Harassment please contact Sally Fletcher

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