Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and What to Do About It
A recent BBC Radio 5 live survey spoke to more than 2,000 people and found that:
- half of the British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study
- 63% of harassed women didn’t report it to anyone
- 79% of harassed men kept it to themselves
The above alone shows the magnitude of the problem in the UK, and with so much recent news about sexual harassment and the “me too” campaign that went viral on social media, this shows how much of a problem it still is on a global scale.
So what can we do about it?
As with most issues, the best way to prevent them is to raise awareness and educate people on what can be done about it. For this reason, we at RGM Security decided to put together a guide to sexual harassment to advise workers on what to do.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is a term that covers any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature and is, more often than not, about the abuse of power. Typically when we hear the term, people think of female victims, usually women who work in large offices or predominantly male jobs. This is not the case, however, as anyone in any occupation can be subject to sexual harassment and they can do something about it.
Sexual harassment can be:
- Verbal – indecent remarks or jokes, inappropriate questions or comments about your sex life, requests or threats for sexual favours.
- Non-verbal – inappropriate staring especially at a person’s body, displaying or sharing of sexually explicit material (e.g nude calendars).
- Physical – unwelcome touching or sexual advances, sexual assault.
- Anything that violates your dignity or makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated.
- Anything that creates a hostile or offensive work environment.
What Can I Do About it?
Sexual harassment doesn’t strictly have a definition and can be hard to manage, as what one might consider an innocent action or remark may be offensive to another. With this being said however, if the victim feels like any comment or action has degraded or offended them or that they are being treated unfairly because of their sex, they have the right under the Sex Discrimination Act to seek legal action.
If you’re being sexually harassed at work, you should:
Keep a Diary
It’s important that you make a note of what happened, when it happened, where it happened and roughly at what time, as well as anyone who was there at the time it took place. Even if it was just one event, you will need to know these details if you are to make an official complaint further down the line. It is also essential if the behaviour carries on so that you can recall and refer back to specific incidents.
Being sexually harassed can lead to a person feeling very alone, hopeless, and frightened, so it is essential that you tell someone who can help you. The sooner you speak up the better, so make sure you follow the steps below straight after an incident:
- Tell the harasser – it is important that you first try and confront the person who has made the comment or act as it may be that they didn’t realise that they were being offensive. Make sure to be clear, describe what they did and that they are not to do it again. Do your best to ignore any attempts to dismiss what you have to say. If you don’t want to talk to them, write them a letter and keep a dated copy for reference or evidence if you need it.
- Tell a friend/colleague – if you don’t want to confront your harasser or you have and they haven’t stopped, it is helpful if you have someone to support you. Talk to a friend or colleague so that someone is aware of what is happening. Colleagues can then act as a witness to any incidents in the future.
- Tell your manager – every company has a procedure in place to investigate sexual harassment complaints, so if the behaviour continues, talk to your employer and make a formal grievance/complaint. They will want to see your record that you’ve kept and should take the necessary action. Remember to put the meeting in writing and keep a copy.
- Tell your HR team or trade union – at any time, you can talk to your HR team or trade union for advice. They can also inform you of what the company grievance process is and how it works.
- Tell the police – if any incident is violent in nature, this is considered a crime and you should inform the police.
Take Your Case to an Employment Tribunal
If the behaviour continues or for some reason, you can’t sort the problem out through your place of employment, you can take your claim to an employment tribunal. Employment tribunals are external committees who will investigate and assess employers on their response to sexual harassment before deeming whether they have acted unlawfully. They will seek to resolve the issue, however, you must file your complaint within 3 months of the incident taking place.
You should take your case to an employment tribunal if:
- You’ve reported the harassment to your employer but it has continued
- The harasser is your employer or owns the company
- You are not satisfied with the handling or the outcome of the investigation by your employer
Sexual harassment is a very serious issue that affects a lot of workers. By following this guide, hopefully, you or someone you know, now knows that there are things that you can do to stop it. There are laws to protect every worker in every company, so don’t ever think that you’re alone and there’s nothing you can do – tell someone straight away and get it sorted!
What we can do for you:
If you’re interested in knowing more about threat awareness training for your staff, RGM are offering training courses developed by Counter Terrorism and Threat Specialists. If you need training or just advice, please don’t hesitate to contact us.