TUC publishes first UK major report into sexual harassment of disabled women at work
Most disabled women surveyed told the TUC they have been sexually harassed at work – and 1 in 8 of those say they left their jobs because of this
TUC calls for a new duty on employers to protect all their staff from sexual harassment at work
Around 7 in 10 (68%) disabled women surveyed about sexual harassment say they have been sexually harassed at work, according to a new poll published by the TUC today (Wednesday).
And younger disabled women aged 18 to 34 are even more likely to have experienced sexual harassment, with almost 8 out of 10 (78%) reporting being harassed at work.
A ground-breaking TUC study on sexual harassment published in 2016 found that more than half (52%) of women had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. And in a further TUC survey in 2019, nearly 7 in 10 (68%) lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people reported being sexually harassed at work
Sexual harassment at work can take many forms, from suggestive remarks, jokes about a colleague’s sex life, circulating pornography, to inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing, demands for sexual favours, and even assault and rape.
This new TUC survey – which is the first major study into the sexual harassment of disabled women at work in Great Britain, and was carried out by YouGov – found that of those surveyed:
Around 2 in 5 (38%) have experienced unwelcome sexual advances at work.
More than 1 in 3 (36%) say they have experienced unwanted touching.
Almost 1 in 5 (18%) experienced sexual assault, such as unwanted sexual touching.
And 1 in 25 (4%) have experienced a serious sexual assault or rape at work.
Two-thirds (67%) of disabled women who experienced sexual harassment at work told the TUC that they did not report the harassment to their boss the most recent time it happened. Of these, the most common reason was that they did not believe they would be taken seriously (39%).
Some said they were worried it would have a negative impact on their career or work relationships (30%). Other reasons included not thinking they would be believed (13%) or thinking they would be blamed if they reported the incident (11%).
And unfortunately, of those who did report the most recent instance of sexual harassment, more than half (53%) said it was not dealt with satisfactorily.
Disabled women told the TUC that sexual harassment had a big effect on their lives.
Around 1 in 3 (34%) said their experiences had a negative impact on their mental health. More than 1 in 5 (21%) said it negatively affected their relationships with colleagues. And it caused 1 in 8 (12%) to leave their job or employer entirely.
Disabled women face significant barriers getting into work and to getting paid the same as non-disabled workers, says the TUC.
TUC research in October 2020 found that disabled women earned 36% less than non-disabled men. And the analysis found that the unemployment gap for disabled women, when compared to non-disabled men was 32.6 percentage points.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No one should face sexual harassment at work. But seven in ten disabled women say they have been sexually harassed by a colleague or a customer while at work.
“Four years on from the explosion of #MeToo on a global scale, employers still aren’t doing enough to make sure women are safe at work. It’s time for every employer to take responsibility for protecting their staff from sexual harassment.
“Ministers must change the law to make employers protect workers from sexual harassment specifically, and from all forms of harassment by customers and clients.
“Anyone worried about sexual harassment at work should get in touch with their union.”
Ministers must act
The TUC is calling on the government to take a range of actions including:
Introduce a new duty to prevent sexual harassment, putting an enforceable legal requirement on all employers to protect their workers from harassment.
Strengthen legislation to tackle third-party harassment in the upcoming employment bill.
Increase funding for the Equality and Human Rights Commission so it can enforce the new duty to prevent sexual harassment.
Introduce a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work, setting out the steps that employers should take to prevent and respond to sexual harassment, and what can be considered in evidence when determining whether the duty has been breached.
- Report: The report is available at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-07/DisabledWomenSexual%20harassmentReport.pdf
- Methodology: Polling was carried out by YouGov, on behalf of the TUC, between 17-23 February 2021, with 2,003 disabled respondents who were either employees, furloughed or unemployed. Of those, 1,162 disabled women agreed to answer questions about their experiences of sexual harassment at work. The research was carried out online. For more information please visit: www.yougov.co.uk
- 2016 study on sexual harassment: The TUC’s 2016 study on sexual harassment of women at work is available at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/nearly-two-three-young-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment-work-tuc-survey-reveals
- 2019 study on sexual harassment: The TUC’s 2019 survey on sexual harassment of LGBT people is at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/nearly-7-10-lgbt-people-say-they-have-been-sexually-harassed-work-says-tuc
- 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. The survey asked about a range of these forms of harassment individually and the results have been aggregated, with ‘Don’t know’ and ‘Prefer not to say’ answers removed, to reach the figure of 68%.
- Disabled women’s unemployment gap and pay gap: TUC research in October 2020 found disabled women earned 36% less than non-disabled men (the disability pay gap analysed by gender). The analysis found that the pay gap for disabled women has widened to £3.68 per hour – an increase from £3.48 per hour in 2019. And the analysis found that the unemployment gap for disabled women, when compared to non-disabled men was 32.6 percentage points: www.tuc.org.uk/news/disabled-workers-earning-fifth-less-non-disabled-peers-tuc-analysis-reveals
- 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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