Most victims don’t report it for fear of not being believed, or damaging their working relationships and career prospects
Polling published as TUC warns Tory Lords are trying to sabotage “essential” new laws to prevent harassment at work
Three in five (58%) women – and almost two-thirds (62%) of women aged between 25 and 34 – say they have experienced sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse at work, according to a new TUC poll published today (Friday).
The TUC poll found that most of these cases were not isolated incidents with more than three in five (57%) women saying they’ve experienced three or more incidents of bullying at work.
And two in five (43%) women have experienced at least three incidents of sexual harassment.
Worker Protection Bill
The poll is published as the TUC is warning that some Conservative MPs and Lords are trying to sabotage new laws to protect workers from sexual harassment and assault at work.
The Worker Protection Bill, a private member’s bill put forward by Wera Hobhouse MP with ministers’ support, would introduce a new preventative duty on employers to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.
The bill would also protect workers from harassment and abuse by third parties like customers or clients.
The TUC says that these are two big gaps in the current workplace protections for women.
But the TUC says government backbenchers are trying to “delay and derail” the bill, so it does not pass within the parliamentary time available.
Third party harassment
Protecting working women from sexual harassment by third parties – such as a customer, client, patient, or member of the public – is crucial as the TUC poll found that in two out of five (39%) of the most recent incidents, the perpetrator of the sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse was a third party rather than another member of staff.
Younger women are particularly at risk of this kind of harassment. Half of women (52%) aged 18 to 34 say they have experienced harassment from a third party at work.
Most often (71%) incidents of sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse happen at work in work premises, but they also happen over phone or text messages (12%), and online, by email, on social media or on a virtual meeting (8%).
Reporting sexual harassment and assault
The poll found that less than one in three (30%) of women who say they experienced sexual harassment at work told their employer about what was happening – and only two in five (44%) of those being bullied and half (50%) experiencing verbal abuse report it.
Of those who didn’t report it, some felt they would not be believed or taken seriously (39%), while others thought reporting it would impact negatively on their relationships at work (37%) or on their career prospects (25%).
TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “Every woman should be safe from sexual harassment. But every day we hear stories about the extent of sexual harassment in our workplaces.
“And we know many women in public-facing jobs – like retail workers and GP receptionists – suffer regular abuse from customers and patients.
“Sexual harassment and bullying have no place in modern workplaces.
“Ministers promised to bring in long overdue new laws to prevent workplace sexual harassment and tackle abuse from third parties like customers and clients.
“But they are now backsliding under pressure from their own backbenchers who are trying to delay and derail these vital new protections.
“It will be a disgrace if the government allows this bill to fall.
“Ministers must urgently ensure this bill passes in full – or they will let down working women right across the country.”
Notes to editors:
- About the polling: The polling was carried out for the TUC by Opinium. They surveyed 1,010 working women in the UK aged over 18, between 20-26 April 2023. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- About the Worker Protection Bill: Ministers consulted on the Bill (link). They then decided to take it forward as a private members bill – and Wera Hobhouse MP agreed to sponsor it. Ministers promised to provide adequate parliamentary time for it to pass through both Houses. However significant numbers of wrecking amendments have now been put down by backbenchers in the Lords meaning the bill may run out of time.
- Impact of sexual harassment: The poll reveals that harassment at work has a huge impact on victims:
Nearly half (45%) of those women say that it has had a detrimental impact on their mental health.
One in four (25%) say they avoided certain work situations, like meetings, courses, locations and shifts, to avoid the perpetrator.
More than one in four (27%) say they wanted to leave their job but couldn’t.
And nearly one in five (18%) left their job as a result of this treatment.
- Harassment at work: This research repeats the TUC’s landmark report from 2016 which found that more than half of women had experienced sexual harassment at work: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/SexualHarassmentreport2016.p…;
And TUC research published last year found that two in five BME people have faced racism at work in the last five years – from “banter” and jokes, through to bullying and harassment: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/2-5-bme-workers-experience-racism-work-new-tuc-report
A survey by shop workers’ union Usdaw last month revealed that nine in 10 staff had experienced abuse at work: https://www.usdaw.org.uk/About-Us/News/2022/Mar/Abuse-threats-and-viole…;
- About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
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