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faqs for companies

how does sexual harassment affect the workplace?

Sexual harassment creates a hostile working environment, which makes it harder for workers to succeed, and negatively impacts their well-being. Sexual harassment is just one of the consequences of hostile and toxic working environments, which can be perpetrated in many different ways. Sexual harassment also often stems from an inherent sexist working culture, which is damaging to employees, especially to women. Furthermore, sexual harassment can create reputational damage to a company. This can thus also negatively affect financial input for a company, both due to the reputational damage, and possibly due to lawsuits. 

how does sexual harassment impact employee performance?

Employee performance is heavily impacted by sexual harassment, as toxic workplaces lead to a reduction in productivity.  In our recent survey we found that 51% of women changed their behaviour after experiencing sexual harassment. Effects on their working performance include tardiness, absenteeism, project neglect, and employee distraction. Sexual harassment furthermore impacts employees’ health, which can also lead them to experience both physical and psychological consequences. Targets of sexual harassment can suffer symptoms ranging from depression and anxiety, to increased fatigue, PTSD, and even suicidal thoughts.

why does sexual harassment happen in the workplace?

Sexual harassment occurs in the workplace for a number of reasons. Not having a good reporting system in place to enable safe and secure whistleblowing/reporting can, for example, facilitate the perpetration of sexual harassment. If targets don’t feel incentivised or encouraged to report such incidents, they might prefer leaving their jobs. However, in many cases targets can not afford to lose their jobs, in which case they choose to stay silent. This can lead to the normalisation of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can also occur in the workplace because employees have not been provided with the adequate education, training, or have generally not been made aware of the issue. 

how is sexual harassment perpetrated in the workplace?

Sexual harassment can take many forms (see our glossary for more detailed information), and at times, targets are not even aware that they are being harassed. Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by anyone in the workplace including coworkers, supervisors, clients, and Human Resources. It can be perpetrated both online and offline. Thus, online communication channels can also be a source of sexual harassment. It can also be perpetrated outside of office spaces, and out of office hours. Types of sexual harassment include:

  • Pressure to have a sexual or emotional relationship

  • Staring or leering at someone’s body

  • Nonconsensual and inappropriate touching 

  • Communication, including inappropriate jokes or comments 

  • Rumours about one’s sexual and private life

  • Derogatory remarks based on someone’s gender or sexual orientation

  • Offering opportunities (promotion, privileges) in exchange of sexual favours 

 

how can we prevent sexual harassment as a company? 

Sexual harassment can be prevented following a series of strategies as a company: 

  • Putting in place a clear sexual harassment prevention policy 

  • Ensuring that all employees understands what sexual harassment is 

  • Providing an adequate training programme 

  • Implementing the necessary channels to facilitate and encourage targets to report, prioritising their safety and well being

  • Dealing with issues that arise immediately

  • Having the appropriate person to deal with reporting

  • Raising awareness 

who does sexual harassment affect in the workplace?

Sexual harassment affects everyone in the workplace, as it creates a severe hostile and toxic working environment. That can include: employees, employers, executives, board of advisors, clients, the company itself, the company’s reputation. Sexual harassment can be perpetrated on one individual, several individuals, or can be remarks or jokes targeted at a specific group. The most targeted group tends to be younger women, and individuals who identify as LGBTQ+.

 

how should we handle cases of sexual harassment involving the police?

It is important to make sure that the case is kept anonymous, including in cases where the police is contacted. In such cases, transparency with employees is necessary to raise awareness and offer explanations as to why this occured and how to avoid it, again keeping those involved anonymous. The wellbeing of the employees should be prioritised at all times, whilst also keeping in mind the reputation of the company. Make sure that you have a list of legal and psychological aid options to offer to your employees to provide support throughout and after the process.

 

According to the EU Directive 2019/1937, companies are required to put in place internal and external channels to facilitate and secure reporting of misconduct in the workplace. Therefore, companies should be ready to deal with complaints which might involve external involvement by third parties, such as the police. 

what should we do if an employee is sexually harassed?

As a company it is extremely important to have a policy against sexual harassment in place that can map out the steps that need to be taken in the case of SH reporting. It is also important that throughout the whole process the target feels supported and is treated with respect. Reporting of sexual harassment should be promptly and thoroughly investigated, and there should not be any retaliation against the target. 

 

how should we train our employees on sexual harassment policies?

Having adequate training on sexual harassment policies for everyone in the workplace is extremely necessary. While it is important to address the legal processes and consequences that the reporting of sexual harassment will have, it is also important to include other content. This content for example, should incorporate the possible misuse and abuse of power, the importance of respecting inclusion, diversity and equity, and information about the possible unconscious biases which can lead to sexual harassment. Furthermore, bystander training should also be included, making sure that everyone knows the different ways in which sexual harassment can happen, so it is easy to identify, report, and stop. 

Lastly, an effort should be made to prohibit toxic and hostile working environments, especially those that are sexist. There should be a zero tolerance policy set up on comments and jokes based on gender or sexual orientation and consequences for derogatory language should be set in place.

should we fire the perpetrator in cases of sexual harassment?

First and foremost, the target should be asked what their preference in handling this case of sexual harassment is. At times, the target just wants the behaviour to stop, in which case the company can simply speak to the harasser, and ensure that awareness is being raised as well as education on the problem. However, if the target of sexual harassment does not feel comfortable in the same working environment as their perpetrator, steps should be taken to ensure that the perpetrator faces heavier consequences. In line with your country’s firing policies, these consequences should be consulted with your HR and legal department.

Remember that not creating heavier consequences for the perpetrator could make the target’s working life extremely hard, which can also lead to reduced productivity and performance, and possibly lead to their resignation. It is extremely important that in cases of sexual harassment, the target’s well-being is prioritised over that of the perpetrator, but that a general education and awareness raising is also created for the perpetrator. Consequences for derogatory behaviour and workplace misconduct should not differ in cases of sexual harassment.  

 

how does sexual harassment link to gender equality in the workplace?

Although sexual harassment can affect anyone in the workplace, it affects women disproportionally, especially in the form of gender discrimination against women. In our most recent survey, 50.9% versus 21.4% of men stated that they had experienced sexual harassment at work or university. 

Women are often the ones who suffer daily types of sexual harassment, in the mask of gendered harassment, such as their body being stared or leered at, receiving unwarranted communication, or remarks about their intellectual capacity based on their gender. They also are known to suffer heavier consequences by being harassed, such as loss of jobs, emotional and mental trauma, and long lasting physical and psychological health problems. Women are also less probable to report sexual harassment. Our latest data collection showed that only 6.1% of women who experienced sexual harassment at work or university reported it to their institution. As a result, more women are statistically likely to resign from their job than to report. 

Consequently, this leads to less women in the workforce in general, but also less women making it to executive positions, creating a heavier disbalance in leading positions on the job market.Until women do not feel as safe in working spaces as most men do, no true gender equality can be achieved.