It is said that worldwide one in ten workers occasionally suffer from some form of sexual harassment. Yes, you read that right. Moreover, even a seemingly innocent sexually tinted remark may have a much greater impact than expected. Especially young women, single women and women with a temporary contract are at risk of becoming a victim, but also men have been the subject of sexual misconduct. Research shows that mostly it was colleagues who were the instigator but in a whopping 26% of cases it was the manager, who of course acts out of a position of power.
I will go on to explain all forms of sexual harassment and the actions that can be taken (by bosses and employees). A good first step is that employers are legally obliged to prevent all forms of sexual harassment.
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Forms of sexual harassment
There is sexual harassment and there are forced sexual favors. This can play between both managers with subordinates and between male and female workers.
Sexual harassment can occur in following forms:
making sexual comments or send sexually explicit text messages or notes;
asking intimate questions about a person’s private life;
proposals for dates with the intention to have sexual contact.
the long stare;
show sexual images (in the office or over the internet or intranet);
making sexually oriented gestures.
gripping, arm around shoulder, squeezing;
(trying to) kiss a person;
someone obstructs your passage;
Not only physical
So here you can see that sexual harassment does not always mean physical contact. Also, comments and gestures can be perceived as very unpleasant or threatening and affect the dignity of the recipient. It is not about the intent of the perpetrator, but the recipient’s experience that counts. However innocent a comment can sometimes seem, the victim can have serious problems.
Sexual harassment risks
Sexual harassment occurs in all types of organisations, but the chances of this happening appear greater in highly hierarchical organisations or organisations where few women work. Sectors that have much to do with sexual harassment:
Trade: Women in sales positions, shopkeepers, clerks and sellers;
Transportation occupations: taxi / bus drivers, train conductors;
Care: nurses and carers;
Police: female and male police officers;
Catering: women in the hospitality industry;
Education: high school teachers;
Hospitals: female interns.
Consequences of sexual harassment at work
Sexual harassment at work, especially when nothing is done about it, can have very negative effects on one’s health. Common symptoms are:
lack of initiative;
stress or anxiety.
Also, physical symptoms arise, such as:
back, neck and shoulder pain;
The number of persons taking sick leave due to sexual harassment is higher than average default. At worst, it leads to such health problems of a psychological nature, which can even lead to disability.
Your work may also suffer from sexual harassment. Examples of this are:
decrease in job satisfaction;
decrease of commitment to the organisation;
increased risk of accidents.
Post traumatic stress disorder
If a threatening work environment persists longer, or if an incident has been intense, the stress reactions could be chronic or can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Characteristics of these are nightmares, loss of memory, and loss of concentration, evading behavior and flashbacks of the post-event.
What does the law say?
In many western countries there are laws against sexual harassment (such as bullying, discrimination, aggression and pressure). Employers are required by this law to implement policies aimed at preventing these so-called psycho social workloads, or limit them. They are also required to provide information about the psycho social workload hazards and the measures taken by the employer to prevent the load or reduce to a minimum.
It is possible for victims to claim compensation from the offender or to impose other measures to the employer. There is a general prohibition against “any form of verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature if the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of the person is affected, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”
What can an employer do against sexual harassment?
- Employers may take the following measures to prevent sexual harassment at work as much as possible:
- Let employees know clearly that sexual harassment is not accepted in the organisation.
- Set a policy (in cooperation with the works council) which clearly sanctions (suspension, official warning) for breaching.
- Speak to offenders about their behavior.
- Offer employees the opportunity to talk to a counselor. This counselor features should be open and transparent. Inform employees about this. This may be a person from an external organisation, such as working conditions, a reintegration agency or a freelancer.
- The company can set up a committee that can deal with complaints about sexual harassment, where employees can go if they have complaints. A complaints committee may impose measures to prevent recurrence.
- Make a note of all reports of sexual harassment in the company and report it at regular intervals, provided with the measures taken. This report can substantiate the need for a company to take action.
- Please note that not only colleagues within the company may engage in sexual harassment. It might even be the customers as well. It is also important that employees will be protected against them.
- If an employer does too little against sexual harassment, he fails on the basis of the law. This can lead to claims for damages for non-pecuniary damage (damages) or property damage in the event of loss of income by the forced termination of the job.
What can workers do against sexual harassment?
- The victim must indicate clearly that she/he does not appreciate the behavior of the person who harasses.
- Sexual harassment often develops slowly and a limit is sometimes difficult to draw. It is always better to intervene sooner, than later. The victim ultimately determines this limit.
- It is wise to keep writing on what is happening.
- It is wise to find out if others also suffer from the same boss. Together you are stronger.
- Discuss the situation with someone confidentially. That can be a counselor or a close colleague within the company or someone outside the company (company doctor, general practitioner, union representative or someone from Victim Support Office).
- If the harassment does not stop, the victim can file a complaint with the employer or, in some countries, even the police.
Conclusion + my number 1 recommendation
Sexual harassment is a very serious and unacceptable offence which ultimately can lead severe personal health problems. Fortunately more and more companies have become aware of these consequences. It is also important to know that those who bully have to prove their innocence. Therefore, it is usually easier to say that the employer has not done enough. The onus will then be on the employer to prove that he has done enough on prevention.
To all ladies (to a lesser extent men) out there: if this happens to you, do not let the culprit go unpunished. As you can see from the above, you have many means to fight back. Yes, it might mean that you better leave that particular working environment, but not without a fight! The law is on your side and ultimately even the police can be involved. Never let them get away with it!
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