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Five common myths about sexual harassment at work

by | Aug 26, 2016 | Sexual Harassment |

Sexual harassment is a serious matter, and it’s more common than many people know. One Trades Union Congress (TUC) report found that 52 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, yet four out of five women fail to report these instances to their employers.

Here are just five myths and facts about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Myth #1: “Banter” isn’t sexual harassment

The idea that jokes and harmless “banter” should be dismissed as not being sexual harassment has been repeatedly debunked by the courts. Indecent or suggestive remarks from co-workers or superiors or jokes about sex are harmful in the workplace. Jokes are often made in front of other colleagues or even management and are often minimized as being a part of the culture. Make no mistake – this is sexual harassment.

Myth #2: If the victims don’t complain, it’s OK

Victims of sexual harassment often don’t complain for fear of losing out on promotions or of losing their job. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a valid claim. Often employees will put up with harassment for many years, which can have significant emotional and professional consequences.

Myth #3: Motives are important

It doesn’t matter what the “harassers” motives were for the comments or action. They may be attempting to be complimentary, play matchmaker between co-workers, or inappropriately share details of sexual exploits. What matters is how the person feels who is on the receiving end of the behavior. In fact, it’s been found that bystanders in an offensive environment can file sexual harassment claims.

Myth #4: Sexual harassment must be physical

This is patently untrue as the Equality Act provides a broad definition of sexual harassment. There have been successful claims of sexual harassment for the telling of sexual jokes, the display of explicit material at work, and making sexual gestures or suggestions.

Myth #5: Only women are sexually harassed

People traditionally think of sexual harassment as being perpetrated by a man towards a woman. This isn’t always the case. Women have harassed men at work with sexual comments and gestures, and there are also instances of same-sex sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment continues to be a significant problem in many workplaces. Employees report feelings of embarrassment, loss of confidence, and fear from these events. Often affected employees leave a job or avoid certain work situations due to these negative experiences.

Victims of sexual harassment have rights. It is important to work with an employment law attorney to learn about your legal options.