Sexual harassment at work

According to the International Labour Office (ILO), sexual harassment is a behaviour of a sexual nature that is unwelcome and offensive to its recipient. 

Sexual harassment may take two forms:

  1. Quid pro quo or sexual blackmail, when a job benefit - such as a pay rise, a promotion, or even continued employment is made conditional on the victim acceding to demands to engage in some form of sexual behaviour.
  2. Hostile working environment where the conditions are intimidating or humiliating for the victim.  There are two dimensions of a hostile work environment: (1) unwelcomed sexual interest (e.g., commenting on sexuality or gender of other people; unwanted advances, gossiping about sexual life of others) and (2) gender-based harassment (e.g., intimidation of somebody or unfair treatment just because somebody is a woman, a man, or trans or gender non-conforming identified).

You need to remember that it is the responsibility of the employer to provide work conditions that are free from sexual harassment. This means that both the perpetrator and the employer are responsible in the case of continuing humiliation or harassment at work. If the employer receives information about the suspected misconduct, he/she should take proper actions to investigate the situation and resolve the problem.

In our experience, people are not always aware of what kind of behaviours are considered sexual harassment, thus we provide some examples below:

Physical form of harassment
  1. Unwelcome touching including pinching, patting, rubbing, purposefully brushing up against another person, hugging or kissing or any other form of physical contact.
Verbal forms of harassment
  1. Inappropriate invitations to go out on dates
  2. Intrusive questions about your private life that offend you
  3. Intrusive comments about your physical appearance that offend you
  4. Making inappropriate sexual gestures
  5. Telling lewd jokes, or sharing sexual anecdotes
  6. Staring in a sexually suggestive or offensive manner, or whistling
  7. Sexually suggestive comments or jokes that made you feel offended
  8. Asking sexual questions, such as inquiries about your sexual history or your sexual orientation
  9. Making offensive comments about someone's sexual orientation or gender identity
Non-verbal forms of harassment
  1. Inappropriate staring or leering that make you feel intimidated 
  2. Sending or showing you sexually explicit pictures, photos or gifts that offend you
  3. Displaying inappropriate sexual images or posters in the workplace
  4. Somebody indecently exposing themselves to you
  5. Somebody making you watch or look at pornographic material against your wishes
  1. Unwanted sexually explicit emails or text messages 
  2. Inappropriate advances that offended you through social networking websites such as Facebook, Instagram or in internet chat rooms.

Research has shown that sexual harassment can lead to mood and anxiety disorders, decreased health fitness, problems with sleep and disturbances in intimate relationships. It can also negatively impact a person’s self-esteem, belief in a good and safe world, trust in people, memory, attention and thinking processes and may lead to suicidal behaviours.

Sexual harassment also affects witnesses these unwelcome behaviours, who may feel stressed and hopeless. They may not intervene due to fear of being harmed themselves.

If sexual harassment is not properly approached in the organisation, it may result in decreased productivity and quality of products and services, higher staff absence and turnover rates, low morale and decreased commitment and loyalty.

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The EMPOWER project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 848180