A professional woman sitting down is looking uncomfortable as a male colleague places his hand on her shoulder, symbolising sexual harassment.
Image: © zinkevych/Stock.adobe.com

Act now to prevent sexual harassment at your office Christmas party

25 Nov 2019

The advice is critical given ICTU’s finding that four out of five workers experiencing sexual harassment at work don’t report it.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has published the results of its survey of more than 1,300 union members regarding experience of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

Among its findings came the fact that four out of five workers experiencing sexual harassment at work did not report the incident to their employer. Furthermore, only one in four of the minority who did report such incidents felt it was taken seriously and dealt with satisfactorily. Interactions with the survey primarily came from women, who made up about 72pc of respondents.

Congress general secretary Patricia King commented on the survey, saying: “Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Yet all too often, it happens in the workplace.

“Of all the alarming statistics thrown up by the polling, the fact that jumps out for me is the unacceptably high levels of under-reporting and dissatisfaction with their employer’s action among those who do report sexual harassment.”

‘Sexual harassment is the most prevalent claim brought to employment tribunal following work celebrations and parties’

The Christmas party

The ICTU survey found that one in five sexual harassment incidents reported had taken place at a work-related social event.

Congress social policy offer Dr Laura Bambrick spoke to this: “We wanted a deeper understanding of workers’ experience of sexual harassment at work – the types of incidents experienced, the perpetrators and location, the barriers to reporting, and the impact sexual harassment has on the lives of those affected.

“For instance, the Christmas party has long been identified as the most common off-site location of workplace sexual harassment, and this is borne out in our survey.”

Advice from employment law consultants

In response to news of the survey results, employment law consultancy HR Team has released an official statement urging employers to act now on minimising the risk of sexual harassment at this year’s fast-approaching Christmas parties.

HR Team director Breda Cullen’s advice was to “ensure that each employee is made fully aware of the policies and procedures governing their behaviour at the annual work shindig”. 

Cullen said: “The findings of the ICTU survey regarding the reporting of sexual harassment during work social events such as the Christmas party may be shocking to many but will come as no surprise to HR professionals. 

“Sexual harassment is the most prevalent claim brought to employment tribunal following work celebrations and parties.”

A work-related social events policy

Reminding companies of their legal requirements, Cullen added: “Employers are liable for the conduct of their staff during work parties and this responsibility applies to harassment on the grounds of gender, religion, age, disability, race and sexual orientation. 

“The list of instructions and guidelines detailed in a work-related social events policy will clearly set out expectations regarding standards on behaviour at the party.”

Cullen’s advice may prove critical given ongoing fear felt by women around speaking out, as Bambrick explained: “While the #MeToo movement has shed light on the hidden problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault at work, and empowered women to speak out, the fear of a negative impact on their career or of not being believed or taken seriously were the most common reported reasons for not pursuing a complaint.”

The ICTU conducted the study in an effort to campaign for a more robust reporting process and greater protection for workers who report such incidents.

In the meantime, workers are encouraged to speak out about any perceived harassment, from unwanted indecent or suggestive remarks about sex life and unwelcome and inappropriate touching, to circulation of pornography and requests or demands for sexual favours.

Further information for those seeking guidance can be found here.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading