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VICTIMS of sexual harassment at work need better protection because their voices have been silenced by “corrosive cultures,” the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said today.
The commission’s report calls on the government to introduce legislation stopping employers from ignoring complaints to protect their reputation.
It said it had found “truly shocking” examples of sexual harassment, including a 17-year-old who locked herself in a toilet after men “joked” about rape, and a woman who revealed she had lost her job and her health.
The commission said firms should not use non-disclosure agreements to sweep sexual harassment under the carpet and there should be a new legal duty on employers to prevent harassment and protect victims.
It also suggested that managers should be given training on how to tackle any problems.
EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said: “We set out to discover how sexual harassment at work is dealt with by employers and how it is experienced by individuals. What we found was truly shocking.”
She said there was a lack of “consistent and effective action” being taken by employers, with people’s careers and mental and physical health being damaged as a result.
“Corrosive cultures have silenced individuals and sexual harassment has been normalised,” she said. “We underestimate the extent and we are complacent as to impact.”
She said urgent action was needed for change. “It cannot be right that millions of people go to work fearing what might have happened by the time they come home.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the report echoed the union body’s own research, which found more than half of women had experienced sexual harassment at work, though only one in five had reported it.
“The impact of sexual harassment can be devastating and long-lasting,” she said.
“Employers and government must take the practical steps set out by both the EHRC and the TUC to stamp out sexual harassment.
“The EHRC also highlight the role union reps have in supporting workers. If you have experienced sexual harassment, join a union today.”
The Fawcett Society’s Sam Smethers said that no woman should face “humiliation, intimidation or harassment” at work.
“Sadly, it’s becoming increasingly clear not only that it’s an all-too-common experience, but that far too many employers are turning a blind eye or even silencing victims of harassment,” she said.
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