The scandal surrounding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein demonstrated why some women feel they should stay silent when harassed in the workplace.
His fall from grace came after the New York Times published an explosive report detailing decades of sexual assault and harassment allegations against him. From this was born the now famous #metoo movement.
Such abuse of power is not confined to the elite. Sadly, this type of harassment occurs in every aspect of society and the workplace. A recent report has revealed that nearly two-thirds of female surgeons are the target of sexual harassment. Yet another story of workplace harassment making headlines.
TUC research figures:
- One in two women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace
- 7 in 10 LGBT+ and disabled women have experienced at least one form of sexual harassment at work
- But most alarmingly, 4 out of 5 experiencing harassment don't report it
In 2019, TUC introduced the #ThisIsNotWorking campaign for a new duty on employers to be proactive in preventing sexual harassment. This resulted in the Government committing to the introduction of the duty in 2021.
Research indicates that workplace harassment is a common cause of stress and risks employee mental health. It's worth remembering that you don't need to be at your workplace to suffer harassment.
Types of workplace harassment
Often, workplace harassment is conflated with sexual harassment, but there are many types of harassment - remember, it is anything that makes an employee feel intimidated or offended.
- Discriminatory harassment - targeting those identified by protected characteristics
- Bullying - including critical remarks and social exclusion
- Workplace violence - often physical assaults on public-facing staff
- Abuse of power - excessive or demeaning demands
- Psychological harassment - social isolation, belittling opinions
- Cyberbullying - sharing gossip and humiliating information or direct messaging
- Retaliation - revenge in response to a perceived slight, including a complaint
- Sexual harassment - unwanted sexual advances, conduct or behaviour
- Third-party harassment - bullying from people outside of your organisation
Workplace harassment advice for employees
- Keep a record of all harassment incidents - this includes recording the name of the person harassing you, their position within the company and the type of harassment inflicted upon you. Be specific about times, dates, locations and the names of any witnesses to the incident. Basically, gather as much information and evidence as possible, as this will only help your case.
- Get witnesses - talk to your colleagues and make sure they'll back you up by corroborating your evidence. If you're being bullied or harassed, there is a good chance that others are too. Team up and help each other.
- Stay calm and professional - don't make any hasty decisions or do anything irrational. Take the time to collect your evidence. Then, when the time is right to go to your superior, you'll be more articulate and able to present a better case for yourself.
- Arrange a meeting with your supervisor or an HR representative- take your record of incidents and witnesses with you. Practice what you're going to say before the meeting. If your harasser happens to be your supervisor, contact HR or your supervisor's superiors.
- Be sure to follow up on your complaint - the last thing you need is for the harassment to continue and your complaint to fall on deaf ears. If you see that nothing is being done, you have the right to take this further and go higher up the chain. Don't stop until your complaint is dealt with and actions are taken.
Workplace harassment advice for employers
Companies need to do much more to tackle harassment in the workplace, according to the head of the UK's equality watchdog - the EHRC.
Rebecca Hilsenrath wrote to the CEOs of 400 top companies demanding action.
EHRC 7-step approach to stopping workplace harassment
- Develop an effective anti-harassment policy
- Engage your staff
- Assess and mitigate risks in the workplace
- Think about reporting systems
- Deliver anti-harassment, equality and diversity training
- Know what to do when a complaint is made
- Know what to do if dealing with sexual harassment and third parties.
What should an anti-harassment policy include?
You can build your anti-harassment policy into your employee handbook or a separate company policy for staff to sign or attest to online. The policy should include:
- An explanation of how workers should make a complaint
- Multiple reporting channels for people to report harassment - so that they do not need to report incidents to the perpetrator or anyone who may not be objective
- A range of approaches for dealing with harassment
- Clearly stated and appropriate consequences and sanctions for harassment or victimisation
- A clear statement that your organisation does not tolerate victimisation or retaliation against complainants
- Information about support and advice services for complainants and alleged harassers. Including employee assistance programmes, internal contact points, local and national support organisations, the Equality Advisory and Support Service, Protect (the whistleblowing charity), advice centres and helplines.
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