Employment News

News added on 03.06.2019

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Sexual orientation harassment

Sexual harassment of LGBT people in the workplace

New research published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) reveals that nearly seven out of ten lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) workers have experienced at least one type of sexual harassment at work, and almost one in eight LGBT women reported being seriously sexually assaulted or raped at work. What can you do to try and prevent this from happening in your workplace?

The TUC survey of over 1,000 workers also indicates that LGBT harassment is still a hidden problem, as two-thirds of those who were harassed didn’t report it, with a quarter of those being due to the fact that it would have “outed” them, i.e. revealed their sexual orientation and/or gender identity at work. Other reasons for keeping quiet included a fear of it having a negative impact on their relationships at work, a fear of career damage and embarrassment. The most common complaint involved comments of a sexual nature by work colleagues. The authors of the report suggest that LGBT people are often subjected to inappropriate and unwelcome comments and questions from work colleagues because of the “sexualisation” of LGBT identities and the misconception that these identities solely focus on sexual activity.

The harassment of LGBT people isn’t just confined to the factory floor; it can occur in any professional working environment. Therefore, you must create a workplace culture that is safe for everyone, taking into account that the perpetrators of harassment are not always men. Steps you can take include:

  • adopting a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination and harassment
  • if you haven’t already done so, putting in place equal opportunities and dignity at work/anti-harassment policies which are LGBT inclusive (harassment because of sexual orientation is already unlawful under the Equality Act 2010)
  • making sure all your other workplace policies are LGBT inclusive (and use appropriate language)
  • implementing equality and dignity at work training for all workers (including for new staff as part of their induction), which is again LGBT inclusive, uses examples and case studies to illustrate the points being made and makes clear what bystanders/witnesses should do to challenge harassment - the aim is to ensure your whole workforce understands your policy and their role in ensuring your workplace is free from sexual harassment and victimisation
  • training line managers in what constitutes sexual harassment, what the law says, what your policies say and how they should respond to complaints
  • providing refresher training to staff and line managers on an annual basis
  • encouraging harassment victims to speak up by putting in place a transparent complaints procedure which makes clear that their complaints will be taken seriously and investigated promptly and properly
  • having clear disciplinary procedures in place to deal with the perpetrators of harassment, including citing harassment as a gross misconduct offence in your disciplinary procedure
  • providing further support for harassment victims, such as access to a confidential counselling service.

Adopt a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination and harassment, make all your workplace policies LGBT inclusive, provide regular equality and dignity at work training for workers and managers and ensure you have a clear complaints procedure so that harassment victims feel safe to report any incidents of inappropriate behaviour. Take prompt disciplinary action against the perpetrators of harassment.

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