Issue date
17 May 2019
  • TUC publishes first GB major report into LGBT sexual harassment at work
  • 1 in 5 LGBT women who have worked in the last 5 years report that they have been sexually assaulted at work
  • TUC calls for a new duty on employers to properly protect their staff from sexual harassment at work

Nearly 7 in 10 (68%) lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people report being sexually harassed at work, according to new research published by the TUC on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia today (Friday).

The report – the first major study into LGBT sexual harassment at work in Great Britain – found that:

  • More than 2 in 5 (42%) LGBT people who responded to the survey said colleagues made unwelcome comments or asked unwelcome questions about their sex life.
  • More than a quarter (27%) reported receiving unwelcome verbal sexual advances.
  • Two-thirds (66%) said they did not tell their employer about the harassment, and quarter of those said they didn’t report because they were afraid of being ‘outed’ at work.

LGBT women

According the survey, LGBT women were more likely to experience unwanted touching and sexual assault at work.

  • Over a third of women (35%) reported they had experienced unwanted touching, for example placing hands on their lower back or knee
  • Over one fifth (21%) reported experiencing sexual assault, for example unwanted touching of the breasts, buttocks or genitals, or attempts to kiss them
  • One in eight (12%) LGBT women said they had been seriously sexually assaulted or raped at work.

LGBT BME and disabled people

BME women and disabled men and women reported even higher rates of harassment and sexual assault.

  • More than half (54%) of LGBT BME women said they have experienced unwanted touching at work, 45% reported sexual assault and more than a quarter (27%) reported serious sexual assault or rape.
  • Half (50%) of LGBT disabled women reported unwanted touching, nearly 4 in 10 (38%) reported sexual assault and almost a quarter (24%) reported serious sexual assault or rape. Disabled men’s reported levels of sexual harassment and assault were significantly higher than non-disabled men, with more than 1 in 4 (28%) of disabled men reporting sexual assault.

Impact

LGBT people told the TUC these experiences had a big impact on their lives. Around 1 in 6 (16%) said the sexual harassment at work affected their mental health. A similar proportion (16%) told the TUC that they had left their job as a result of being sexually harassed – and for 1 in 25 described the experience as so unbearable that it caused them to leave their job without another job to go to.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This research reveals a hidden epidemic.

“In 2019 LGBT people should be safe and supported at work. But instead they’re experiencing shockingly high levels of sexual harassment and assault.

“Workplace culture needs to change. No one should think that a colleague being LGBT is an invitation for sexualised comments or inappropriate questions – let alone serious acts of assault.

“Government must change the law to put the responsibility for preventing harassment on employers, not victims. And anyone worried about sexual harassment at work should join a union.”

Editors note

The report is available at https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/sexual-harassment-lgbt-people-workplace
- Defining sexual harassment: We have used the Equality Act 2010 definition of sexual harassment. It defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment for them. Sexual harassment at work can take many forms, from suggestive remarks, jokes and questions about a colleague’s sex life, and displaying or circulating pornography, to inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing, or sexual assault. 
Methodology: The TUC commissioned research from ICM Unlimited in November 2018. ICM interviewed a sample of 1,001 LGBT workers (who have worked within the last 5 years) aged 18+ living in Great Britain online between 22 November and 5 December 2018. No quotas were set as the exact profile of LGBT people in Great Britain is not available in census data. Data therefore remains unweighted. ICM also conducted an additional 150 interviews among female LGBT workers (who have worked within the last 5 years) aged 18+ living in Great Britain, in order to facilitate a more robust analysis. 49 BME LGBT women were interviewed. For more information about ICM Unlimited visit: www.icmunlimited.com 
TUC recommendations: (for the full recommendations please see the report)

The TUC is calling on the government to:

  • Introduce a new duty to prevent harassment.
  • Introduce a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work.
  • Strengthen legislation to tackle third-party harassment.
  • Build on the findings set out in this report by conducting further research.
  • Fund specialist services to combat sexual violence and support survivors.

The TUC is calling on employers to:

  • Make all work policies inclusive.
  • Review existing policies.
  • Adopt a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination and harassment.

The TUC is calling on unions to:

  • Review their guidance and training.
  • Review employer policies on sexual harassment.
  • Negotiate robust workplace policies.
  • Run workplace campaigns.

Previous research on LGBT sexual harassment at work: Very little is known about the true extent of sexual harassment of LGBT people at work in the UK. The most recent research into LGBT peoples’ experience of workplace sexual harassment was conducted by the Government Equalities Office (GEO). This found that 1% of LGBT people, who had been in a job for the 12 months preceding the survey, had experienced sexual harassment or violence at work. However, this finding was based on a single question within a wider survey which did not attempt to define sexual harassment or contextualise it. 
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 49 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.

Contacts:

Elly Gibson 
egibson@tuc.org.uk 
020 7467 1337 
079 0091 0624

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin 
nnimhaoileoin@tuc.org.uk 
020 7467 1288 
07771 713574

TUC press office 
media@tuc.org.uk 
020 7467 12 48