Three-quarters of workers experiencing sexual harassment at work do not report the incident to their employer, according to a new survey from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Northern Ireland.
The survey also found that Christmas parties were the most common out-of-workplace location of such sexual harassment.
ICTU surveyed more than 638 trade union members in Northern Ireland with experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace.
Three out of four of the respondents did not report the unwanted sexual behaviour to their employer, while of those who did report, 62 per cent felt that it was not dealt with satisfactorily and in some instances said they had been treated less favourably as a result of reporting sexual harassment.
ICTU assistant general secretary, Owen Reidy, said that sexual harassment can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. "Yet all too often, it happens in the workplace," he said.
“Of all the alarming statistics thrown up by the polling, the fact that jumps out for me is the unacceptably high levels of under-reporting and dissatisfaction with their employer’s action among those who do report sexual harassment,” said Mr Reidy.
Close to three-quarters of the responses were from women. ICTU said that the survey focused exclusively on people’s experience of sexual harassment in the workplace, rather than measuring the scale of the problem.
"We wanted a deeper understanding of workers' experience of sexual harassment at work – the types of incidents experienced, the perpetrators and location, the barriers to reporting, and the impact sexual harassment has on the lives of those affected" said ICTU equality officer Clare Moore.
“For instance, the Christmas party has long been identified as the most common off-site location of workplace sexual harassment, and this is borne out in our survey. However, the extent of unwanted sexual behaviour from colleagues taking place online also reported points to a growing problem in the modern workplace,” she added.
“Twenty nine per cent reported their most recent experience of sexual harassment had taken place at a work-related social event while a sizeable minority reported being harassed by phone or text (11 per cent) or by email, online or via social media (9 per cent),” said Ms Moore.
“While the #MeToo movement has shed light on the hidden problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault at work and empowered women to speak out, the fear of a negative impact on their career or of not being believed or taken seriously were common reasons for not pursing a complaint,” she added.
Mr Reidy said employers had a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment and protect their employees. “However, trade unions are concerned that duties on employers do not go far enough. Employers must act urgently and proactively to tackle this problem – raise awareness that such behaviour is unacceptable and may be subject to discipline; implement a comprehensive policy with an associated programme of training, set up proper, timely procedures for reporting and support the victims and deal with the perpetrators.
“There needs to be real consequences for those employers who don’t comply with their obligations. Everyone has the right to respect and wellbeing at work.”
ICTU survey in numbers:
– 38 per cent of respondents experienced unwanted touching, such as a hand on the knee or lower back.
– 54 per cent of respondents were subjected to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature.
– 44 per cent of respondents reported receiving unwelcome verbal sexual advances in the workplace.
– 42 per cent of respondents said they were subjected to unwelcome questions or comments about their sex life.
– 16 per cent of respondents were subjected to unwelcome questions or comments of a sexual nature about their sexual orientation.
– 28 per cent of respondents reported that their direct manager or another manager was the perpetrator.
– 38 per cent of respondents reported that they felt less confident at work, with a further 21 per cent saying it had a negative impact on their performance at work.