HomeSexual harassment surges by 62.5% in Irish workplaces

Sexual harassment surges by 62.5% in Irish workplaces

Dublin, Ireland. 5 April 2023 - A worrying trend for Irish employers has emerged as sexual harassment incidents surge by almost two-thirds in the last quarter alone. Peninsula Ireland, who provide HR support and advice to 7,000 businesses, have seen calls to their advice line citing sexual harassment increase by a whopping 62.5%.

Examples of calls include:

• An employee pulled down another employee’s trousers thinking it was a joke. This caused significant distress and the other employee left work mid-shift, before filing a complaint. Following a disciplinary hearing, the employee who pulled down the trousers was dismissed.

• A manager regularly leaned over an employee when at their desk and would rub their arm. The employee was uncomfortable and raised a complaint, stating they were too nervous to approach their manager directly. Following an investigation, the complaint was upheld, and the manager resigned.

• A supervisor greeted an employee every morning saying ‘hey beautiful’ or ‘good morning gorgeous’. This made the employee uncomfortable as the supervisor did not greet other employees in the same way. The supervisor didn’t realise they had done anything wrong and was upset that their actions had caused distress, but the complaint was upheld. Dignity and respect at work training was delivered to all employees at the company.

Moira Grassick, COO at Peninsula Ireland, says “A rise in sexual harassment claims is obviously a huge cause of concern and something employers need to take very seriously.

“The last few weeks have seen a surge in the number of calls from clients around sexual harassment in the workplace. Although the reasons are far-reaching, one common denominator may be the phased move back to the office following three-years of pandemic-induced remote working.

“Since early 2020, many workers in Ireland have carried out their roles from their own homes. And whilst video calls and chat functions have been a useful replacement for in-person interaction, now that we’re starting to see more and more companies move back to bring fully site-based, it appears to be bringing about challenges in the way that colleagues interact with each other. As such, there may be a need for some employees to become reacquainted with appropriate standards of workplace behaviour to avoid any conduct issues arising.

“It’s always a good idea for employers to regularly circulate their handbooks and policies to employees so that there is no misunderstanding as to what is and what is not acceptable at work.

“In addition, it’s beneficial to supplement policies with management training so that line managers can confidently, sensitively, and appropriately manage any instances of complaints being raised about harassment, sexual or otherwise.

“Whether or not a person is acting with intent is irrelevant. If their actions are causing upset or discomfort to another employee then it is inappropriate, and the behaviour needs to be addressed. Likewise the gender of either party involved is irrelevant. Dignity and respect at work training should be carried out for all employees on a regular basis.

“A workplace where open communication is valued and where employees feel comfortable and able to report issues and speak out against improper behaviour to their line manager or other appropriate channels without fear of repercussion or hostility is a must. And in the event of a complaint being raised regarding any allegation of harassment, sexual or otherwise, managers must know firstly how to sensitively approach the situation and provide adequate support to the employee, but also must know how to respond in terms of investigating and following the formal investigation process to the letter.

“Failure to follow a full and fair procedure for any discipline or bullying and harassment case will be considered if the case reaches court and could result in an employer being found vicariously liable.

“As an aside, it’s important to remember that out of work social events with colleagues can also constitute as “the workplace”. An employer would have a duty to prevent such inappropriate behaviours from occurring at social events and nights out, or again, risk having vicarious liability.

“Sexual harassment has no place anywhere, and certainly not in the workplace. Employers simply cannot afford to turn a blind eye.”


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