Well over a third of women have experienced sexual harassment at work over the past year, but more than half of employers have failed to take action on the issue, according to a survey by law firm Slater and Gordon.
The employment law specialist surveyed 2,000 women. Of the 37% of respondents who claimed they had experienced harassment at work, complaints included inappropriate comments, sexual conduct and, in 6% of cases, unwanted physical contact. Nearly 60% of those affected reported experiencing multiple incidents throughout their career.
The results also highlighted that 39% of women have witnessed a colleague being harassed and 28% claimed they have a male boss or colleague in their organisation who abuses his position by regularly preying on female staff members. Of those who reported having a ‘serial harasser’ in their workplace, nearly a quarter said the person concerned was allowed to continue to behave inappropriately because other members of staff feared losing their job if they spoke out.
Despite the survey results suggesting the issue remains significant in many workplaces, there is also evidence to suggest that employers are not taking the issue seriously. More than half of respondents said their workplace either did not have a policy in place to deal with sexual harassment, or they were not aware of such a policy.
Only around a fifth of women who said they had experienced harassment over the past year had lodged a formal complaint with their managers or HR. The top reason given for not reporting incidents of harassment was that nothing would be done. Additional reasons included not being believed or fear of career repercussions, with a fifth claiming that such behaviour was viewed as normal in their workplace.
In response to the results, Clare Armstrong, an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said the normalising of abusive and inappropriate behaviour in many workplaces was one of the more notable issues arising from the survey. Reporting instances of sexual harassment takes courage and those who come forward need to feel confident that their employer will listen and take appropriate action, she commented.
Armstrong also warned that many employers are still ignoring the problem and that more people are contacting her firm after experiencing unacceptable behaviour at work. Employers who fail to take steps to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace are unlikely to have a viable defence to such claims, she added.