Almost four in 10 (37%) women have been sexually harassed at work in the last 12 months, yet organisations are choosing to ignore the scale of the problem, a law firm has claimed.
A survey of 2,000 women by Slater and Gordon discovered that not only have many female employees experienced harassment themselves, 39% have witnessed a fellow staff member being abused.
Sexual harassment at work
Fifty-two per cent said their employer had not taken any action to combat sexual harassment, while 56% said their organisation did not have a sexual harassment policy, or were not aware of one.
Despite the rise of the #MeToo movement and the allegations made against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein increasing awareness of the problem, 28% claimed they still had a predatory male colleague or boss who harassed female members of staff.
Although the survey found only 21% of victims came forward about harassment, employment lawyer Clare Armstrong said Slater and Gordon had seen an increase in the number of people getting in contact about the issue.
The law firm has now urged the government to make it mandatory for all organisations to have a policy on sexual harassment, which it hopes would help tackle inappropriate behaviour.
“The MeToo movement has been hugely positive in terms of highlighting the issue and encouraging women to talk about their experiences, but these results do show there is still that fear holding many of them back,” she said.
“It takes courage to report sexual harassment and the confidence that your employer will listen and support you, but I think many companies are still ignorant to the severity of the problem or are choosing to turn a blind eye.”
Armstrong said organisations seemed to normalise inappropriate behaviour by failing to prevent it from happening.
“There is currently no legal obligation on companies to have an anti-harassment policy, but making this mandatory is a necessary step.”
“Sexual harassment at work is unlawful and can be the basis for an employment tribunal claim against the employer and the individual perpetrator. Employers are obliged to take reasonable steps to prevent it and if they fail to do so they are unlikely to have a good defence,” she said.
In July the Women and Equalities Committee recommended that a new duty to prevent harassment should be placed on employers and should be supported by a statutory code of practice.
According to Slater and Gordon, comments deemed suggestive or inappropriate were the most common form of harassment reported, with 16% of women stating they had received them.
Eleven per cent said they had been subjected to sexually explicit or sexist conduct and 6% had been groped by a colleague.
Reasons why women had not come forward about harassment ranged from thinking nothing would be done to believing speaking out would harm their career.
One in five suggested that such behaviour was considered “the norm” in their workplace.