Sexual harassment at work
Sexual harassment is any form of unwelcome sexual attention that you find offensive, humiliating or intimidating.
When it happens at work, it can put you in a really awkward and upsetting situation. It can be written, verbal or physical and both men and women can be affected by it.
Sexual harassment can include:
- unwelcome touching, grabbing or other physical contact
- comments that have sexual meanings
- asking for sex or sexual favours
- leering and staring
- displaying rude and offensive material
- sexual gestures and body movements
- sexual jokes and comments
- questions about your sex life
- sex-based insults
- criminal offences such as obscene phone calls, indecent exposure and sexual assault
How it can affect you
Sexual harassment can be an incredibly stressful experience. How do you draw the line between what’s ok and what’s not? If someone’s behaviour is making you uncomfortable, it can be hard to know what to do about it without making the situation awkward. There’s always the worry people will think you’re over-reacting or that you’ll even jeopardise your job for making a fuss. It’s just a laugh, right?
However, the effects of sexual harassment can be pretty serious and include:
- feeling stressed, anxious or depressed
- wanting to stay away from work
- feeling unable to trust your employer or the people you work with
- lacking confidence and self-esteem in yourself and your work
- having physical symptoms of stress such as headaches, backaches, sleep problems
- having your life outside of work affected, eg study, relationships
- being less productive and unable to concentrate.
No one deserves or asks to be sexually harassed. It’s not that much to ask for in fairness. Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from harassment, bullying, discrimination and violence.
The Employment Equality Acts 1998 and 2004 deal with discrimination within employment. The acts prohibit sexual harassment and harassment of an employee (including agency workers or vocational workers) in the workplace or in the course of employment.
What you can do
- You might be able to resolve the situation quickly yourself by explaining to the person who is harassing you that their behaviour is unwanted.
- Make sure you’re informed – find out what the organisation’s policies and procedures are for preventing and handling sexual harassment – most companies take this issue very seriously.
- Keep a diary documenting everything that happens, including what you’ve done to try stopping it. This can help if you make a complaint.
- Get external information and advice, eg from the Equality Authority. The Equality Authority has a general remit to promote equality and can give advice and, in some cases, legal assistance if you wish to bring a claim of harassment under the Employment Equality Acts.
- Tell someone. The person to talk to might be a Human Resource Manager, but if there isn’t one you should report it directly to your employer, a supervisor/manager or health and safety representative (if your work has one). This situation might be able to be resolved informally, without any official complaint being made.
- If the situation continues or is serious, you might need to make a formal (written) complaint that follows company policy. The person sexually harassing you might be officially warned, and be required to have counselling. If the sexual harassment continues, there might be a mediation process and, if all else fails, the person sexually harassing you might be fired
- If the person doing the sexual harassing is your employer or they do not do anything to stop it, it’s important you get outside support and advice
Remember it’s your right to be protected at work. For more information on sexual harassment at work and what to do about it, check out the following links:
- The Equality Authority can provide you with information and assistance on issues of equality, discrimination and harassment. See www.equality.ie or Locall 1890 245 545.
- Citizens Information.ie provides helpful information and links on all your rights and entitlements. See their page on harrassment in the work place for more.
- Free Legal Advice Centres(FLAC) is an independent organisation that provides free legal advice on your rights either over the phone or in person at their centres. Locall 1890 350 250 for more information on their services.