Sexual harassment at work


Incidence, current state of knowledge and management strategies

- Factsheet on the research project -

Understanding of the term 'sexual harassment'

  • The situations described by the General Equal Treatment Act under Section 3, para 4 for the purpose of defining the term 'sexual harassment' are definitely considered as sexual harassments by more than half of the employees.
  • Accordingly, about nine out of ten respondents (93 percent) state that they classify any requests to carry out unwanted sexual acts as sexual harassments. Almost the same percentage of respondents (89 percent) subsume explicit requests such as "Sit on my lap!" under this category.
  • Also (supposedly coincidental) unwanted physical contacts, lewd comments of a sexual nature, the putting up of provocative or pornographic images as well as unwelcomed stares are also recognized as forms of sexual harassment by the vast majority of the respondents, however, considerably more often by women than by men.
  • The understanding of this term on the part of the personnel managers and members of works councils interviewed also seems to be largely consistent with the interpretation of the current legislation. Thus, more than three quarters of the respondents classify any situation mentioned there as belonging to the category 'sexual harassment'.

Personal experience and observations

  • When being directly asked about it, 17 percent of the female employees and 7 percent of their male colleagues report that they have already been sexually harassed at work. Yet, when asking them about the individual offences described in the legislation, approximately 50 percent of each group, women and men, state that they have already experienced this kind of situations once.
  • Women tend to experience physical harassment (unwanted physical approaches, hugs, kisses) slightly more often than men. Incidences of visual and/or verbal forms of harassment, such as e-mails with undesired content or ambiguous comments, are reported more often by men than by women.
  • Mostly, sexual harassment starts out from men. This particularly applies to cases reported by women. But also men are more often harassed by male colleagues than by women.
  • In most cases, the questioned senior executives and staff representatives are informed about sexual harassments by their own observations or because their colleagues have talked about it (each of the aforesaid categories: 43 percent). However, it is rather seldom that affected individuals directly approach them.

Handling of incidents of sexual harassment

  • More than half of the personnel managers and members of works councils (58 percent) who know about the harassments at their company state that these matters have been dealt with officially.
  • When dealing with these incidents it is often persons working in the human resource management department who do so. In most of the cases they try to clarify the facts by conversations. Approximately four out of ten persons (42 percent) also report about warning letters or transfers.

Knowledge about legal provisions and knowledge about protective measures at the workplace

  • It is true that the vast majority of employees (92 percent) knows that sexual harassment is prohibited. However, many of the individual rights which are guaranteed by the General Equal Treatment Act are still largely unknown. Thus, for example, only one in five employees (19 percent) knows that employers are obliged to protect their staff members against sexual harassment.
  • Almost half of the respondents (46 percent) do not know about any measures of protection against sexual harassment which would have been initiated by their company or their agency. Only almost one third of them (29 percent) knows about a contact person at the workplace.
  • On enquiry, even a large part of the senior executives and staff representatives at public and private enterprises (60 percent) is not able to cite any protective measures at their institutions.
  • Merely one quarter (25 percent) of the personnel managers and members of the works councils knows about the employers' duties of protection and care towards employees regulated by law.