TUC study reveals ugly truth about workplace sexual harassment for disabled women

A TUC report has revealed the high rates of disabled women who have experienced sexual harassment

New research by Trades Union Congress (TUC) has found that 7 in 10 disabled women surveyed about sexual harassment said they had been sexually harassed at work.

The study found that sexual harassment at work has contributed to a significant turnover rate for disabled female employees, with 1 in 8 people involved said they left their jobs because of this.

The study also revealed that 38% of respondents have experienced “unwelcome sexual advances” at work, where 36% have experienced “unwanted touching”. In comparison, 1 in 25 respondents (4%) have experienced “a serious sexual assault or rape at work.”

Younger disabled women, namely those aged 18 to 34, are more likely to have experienced sexual harassment, with 78% of those involved in the study reporting being harassed at work.

The findings also reveal that most disabled women fail to report incidences of sexual harassment at work, where 67% told the TUC that they did not report the harassment to their boss the most recent time it happened.

The most common reason they failed to report the sexual harassment was that they did not believe they would be taken seriously (39%). In comparison, 30% were worried it would have a negative impact on their career or work relationships. Furthermore, 13% thought they wouldn’t be believed, and 11% said they thought they would be blamed if they reported the incident.

Of those who reported the most recent instance of sexual harassment, 53% said it was not dealt with satisfactorily. Unsurprisingly disabled women involved in the study told the TUC that sexual harassment had a big effect on their lives, where 1 in 3 (34%) said their experiences had “a negative impact on their mental health,” while 21% said it negatively affected their relationships with colleagues while 1 in 8 (12%) have had to leave their job or employer entirely.

Following these findings, the TUC is calling on the Government to make these changes:

  • Introduce a new duty to prevent sexual harassment, putting an enforceable legal requirement on all employers to protect their workers from harassment.
  • Strengthen legislation to tackle third-party harassment in the upcoming employment bill.
  • Increase funding for the Equality and Human Rights Commission so it can enforce the new duty to prevent sexual harassment.
  • Introduce a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work, setting out the steps that employers should take to prevent and respond to sexual harassment, and what can be considered in evidence when determining whether the duty has been breached.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No one should face sexual harassment at work. But seven in ten disabled women say they have been sexually harassed by a colleague or a customer while at work.

“Four years on from the explosion of #MeToo on a global scale, employers still aren’t doing enough to make sure women are safe at work. It’s time for every employer to take responsibility for protecting their staff from sexual harassment. Ministers must change the law to protect workers from sexual harassment specifically and all forms of harassment by customers and clients. Anyone worried about sexual harassment at work should get in touch with their union.”

Darren Hockley, Managing Director at e-learning company DeltaNet International, reacted to the findings: “No one has the right to create an intimidating environment or violate anyone’s dignity at all, and this includes within the workplace. Not only does sexual harassment have a detrimental effect on the victim’s mental health, but as the research has shown, 1 in 8 have left their jobs because of this. This behaviour affects employees’ careers and livelihoods.

“Organisations must create a safe environment for people to work in and creating a culture where everyone understands discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated. Ensure all staff take compulsory training with equality and diversity, preventing discrimination and harassment in the workplace to courses on respecting one another – this will help clarify the behaviour that employees are expected to adhere to while in the workplace.

“Organisations must make the process easier for employees to raise grievances and challenge sexual harassment, so this type of behaviour never gets repeated to another colleague or person in general. Employees must recognise that their employer takes sexual harassment cases very seriously, and see that any issues get addressed straight away, so colleagues feel comfortable raising issues and know what they say matters.”

To read the report in full, please click here.


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