Sexual Harassment

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Women have been subjected to sexual harassment at work for many years. The STUC Women’s Committee views this as a very serious issue which needs to be addressed and eliminated in the workplace. In the same way that members should not be expected to tolerate other dangers to their health and safety at work, they should not be expected to put up with sexual harassment in any form.

Recipients of sexual harassment are not always women, men and gay men in particular, can be subjected to sexual harassment. However, at work men are often in positions of authority and power over women and this has led to women being more at risk of experiencing sexual harassment than men. More than 50% of women are likely to experience sexual harassment at some point during their working lives. It is the most common, but one of the least discussed, occupational health issues for women.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment at work is prohibited under the Equality Act 2010 and has been defined as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of women and men at work”. This can include unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct.1 It can be carried out by a manager and colleagues. Examples of sexual harassment include:

• unwelcome comments about the way you look

• lewd remarks or glances

• questions about your sex life

• requests for sexual favours

• intimate physical contact

• offensive jokes

• displaying pornographic photographs, pictures or calendars

• offensive e-mail 


It is important to recognise that what is offensive to one person might not be offensive to another, so it is impossible to give a precise list of what constitutes sexual harassment. Additionally, the fact that the harasser did not intend to harass and cause offence is irrelevant. If the behaviour is viewed by the recipient as unwanted, unreasonable and unreciprocated, then it is likely to be sexual harassment. 


The impact of sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment creates a hostile and intimidating work environment and can lead to:

• loss of confidence

• impact on work performance

• affect promotion opportunities

• stress, depression and stress related physical illnesses

• increased absenteeism

• requests for transfers

• resignation. 


What can reps do?

Please click on the links below to find out what you can do to support women affected by sexual harassment in the workplace.

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Women’s Health and Safety at Work Toolkit

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