Report reveals widespread workplace sexual harassment

Shocked woman

Over half of women have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace, according to Trades Union Congress (TUC) research. Alarmingly, however, around four in five of the women surveyed had not told their employer about the harassment.

The report – the largest of its kind commissioned for several years – found that younger women were particularly at risk, with nearly two-thirds of those aged 18-24 saying they had suffered workplace sexual harassment.

The study, which was conducted by YouGov, has been hailed by a leading academic as ‘one of the most extensive pieces of research on sexual harassment at work in Europe’.

Among its key findings, the study showed that:

  • 32 per cent of women have been the subject of unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature whilst at work.
  • 28 per cent have been subjected to comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes whilst at work.
  • A fifth have been subjected to unwanted verbal sexual advances whilst at work.
  • Around 12 per cent have experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them whilst at work.

The report showed that 88 per cent of incidents were perpetrated by males, and around 17 per cent of the women affected said the perpetrator was someone with direct authority over them, such as a line manager.

Vicarious liability and discrimination

Sex discrimination is just one of a range of types of workplace discrimination that employers cannot ignore. In addition to the damaging effect of discrimination on staff members and their colleagues, employers should bear in mind that they can be found vicariously liable for the acts of their employees, which means that the employer is legally liable as though it had carried out the actions actually carried out by its employee.

Significantly, there is no limit to the amount of compensation a claimant can win in a discrimination claim (recently an NHS Trust employee was awarded £4.5 million for race and sex discrimination).

For an overview of the circumstances in which an employer can be vicariously liable for discrimination and how to manage the risk of such an occurrence please read our Vicarious Liability and Discrimination Briefing Note.

For general guidance on identifying and preventing workplace discrimination please read our Discrimination in the Workplace Briefing Note.

Legal advice on workplace discrimination

For expert advice on discrimination in the workplace and how your business can best manage the risks please contact Employment Law Partner Paul Maynard:

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