In 2016, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that 52% of all women polled in their ‘Still just a bit of banter?’ report had experienced some form of sexual harassment.
This November, ACAS published the results of a YouGov poll which they commissioned in order to review sexual harassment in the 2018 British workplace.
The workplace regulator sought to understand whether the recent global publicity surrounding sexual harassment (including the #MeToo, #TimesUp and #WhyIDidntReport movements) has had an impact on attitudes and prevalence in the workplace.
The poll involved 2017 adults resident in Great Britain, of which 1181 were categorised as workers.
To recap the legal jargon, sexual harassment is any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
What were the findings?
The poll showed that:
- 30% of respondents believe that sexual harassment in the workplace has decreased in the last five years.
- 24% agree that global media coverage has helped to improve their workplace culture.
- However, only 38% of workers responded indicating they would be “very likely” to report sexual harassment if they personally experienced it, with 36% indicating they would be “very likely” to report sexual harassment if they had instead witnessed it.
Particularly of note to employers:
- Only 58% of workers believe that their employer is doing the right amount to reduce sexual harassment
- 60% of respondents think that better training for all staff would be effective at reducing workplace sexual harassment
- 46% of respondents think that making changes to the wider culture of the company would be effective
- 44% think that “updating existing policies and procedures” would be effective.
ACAS reports a ‘degree of comfort’ with reporting to line managers – with 71% of those workers who said they would be likely to report indicating that they would also be comfortable reporting it to their line manager in doing so.
However, generally speaking, the results illustrate that employees expect a lot more from their employers. The Equality Act 2010 confers robust statutory protections, but enforceability and prevention in the day-to-day running of a business need to be improved.
This is particularly evident when considering that 92% of respondents said that they know sexual harassment is unlawful in the workplace.
T’is the season to be jolly, but t’is also the season for employers to have proper employment practices in place.
Whilst Christmas is undoubtedly an enjoyable time for most, due consideration has to be given to the heightened risk of misconduct of any nature as a result of the increase in interaction between colleagues at informal and social work-related functions, where there is a temptation to consume variable quantities of alcohol to get into the Christmas spirit.
Employers will often attract ‘vicarious liability’ for the acts of their employees, and this liability has been established even where misconduct has occurred out of hours and out of the office, with no resemblance to any of the employer’s day-to-day undertakings. (For one such case, please revisit October’s WPL).
Employers should always take allegations of sexual harassment seriously, and handle them fairly and consistently in line with their relevant policies. Employers must also allow the worker to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative to any grievance meeting.
To view the full ACAS research paper, please follow: Sexual harassment in the British workplace We all know it’s wrong, so why is it so difficult to stop?