Study on sexual harassment in the workplace
One in eleven people harassed at work in the last three years/ More than half of the assaults came from customers

Year of issue 2019
Date 2019.10.25

One in eleven gainfully employed persons (nine percent of those surveyed) have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the last three years. With a proportion of 13 percent, women were affected more than twice as often as men (5 percent). This was found in a study commissioned by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) published on Friday. More than half (53 percent) the cases of harassment came from third persons (customers, patients, clients). Forty-three percent of harassers were colleagues; 19 percent were superiors or persons more senior.

"Sexual harassment at work can have severe consequences for those affected", said Bernhard Franke, acting head of the Federal Anti-Discrimination agency, upon presenting the study on Friday in Berlin. "It is in the companies’ own interest to intervene through clear guidelines and measures to prevent sexual harassment – for instance, by appointing permanent contact persons and by offering compulsory training to executive staff. When customers harass employees, employers must take immediate action to protect their staff – this may even include banning the perpetrators from entering the premises or place of business and may not, for instance in the catering or retail trade, be belittled as an ‘occupational risk’ and therefore ignored. In the healthcare area, a termination of the treatment contract could also be considered as a protective measure."

Federal Minister for Women’s Affairs Franziska Giffey stated: "The FADA study shows that sexual harassment in the workplace is a widespread problem. Any one case is one too many. Not only do those personally affected have to cope with the negative consequences, but such incidents often also affect the working atmosphere and the ability to work. Those affected frequently report having been harassed again and again over an extended period of time. In large part, it is women who become victims of sexual harassment. It is an expression of abuse of power and a form of violence against women, but also against men. Employers and staff representation bodies have the duty to actively engage with sexual harassment in the workplace and to consistently combat it – no matter whether it comes from customers, colleagues or superiors."

According to the study, the forms of harassment most frequently reported by those affected were verbal harassment such as sexualised comments (62 percent) or harassment by means of looks and gestures (44 percent). Unwanted touching or physical advances were experienced by about one in four (26 percent) of those affected. Most experiences of harassment were no one-off incidents – eight in ten interviewees experienced more than one such situation. In addition, 82 percent of those affected reported that the perpetrators were exclusively or predominantly men.

Furthermore, the study shows that in many cases, the sexual harassment was perceived by those affected as degrading and denigrating and also as threatening. Forty-eight percent of women victims (28 percent of men), for instance, described the harassment as having made them feel moderately to severely degraded or denigrated. Forty-one percent of women and 27 percent of men reported moderate to severe mental stress. Thirty percent of women and 21 percent of men perceived the situation to be moderately to very threatening.

How do those affected cope with experiences of harassment in the workplace? The majority of those affected reported they had fought back verbally directly after the incident (66 percent). At a later time, four out of ten victims turned to third parties, such as – most frequently – colleagues (47 percent), superiors (36 percent), friends or family (15 percent) or counselling centres and/or treatment facilities (11 percent). This means, among all persons affected, only four percent sought professional support from counselling centres and other facilities.

More than 40 percent of all employees did not have any knowledge of company-internal complaint offices for cases of discrimination or sexual harassment. According to section 13 of the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG), all employers are legally required to establish complaint offices within their companies and inform their employees of these.

The study entitled "Strategien im Umgang mit sexueller Belästigung am Arbeitsplatz – Lösungsstrategien und Maßnahmen zur Intervention" (Strategies for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace - solution strategies and intervention measures) was conducted from June 2018 until May 2019 by lead author Deputy Prof. Monika Schröttle at the Institute for Empirical Sociology (IFES) in the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. It includes a representative telephone survey by the Bielefeld SOKO Institute of 1,531 persons, who had been gainfully employed over the last three years (including trainees, interns and self-employed persons), a qualitative study component with in-depth interviews of victims, and focus group discussions with different target groups. In addition, it evaluated legal cases.

Concurrent with the study’s publication , the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency launches the #betriebsklimaschutz information campaign (to protect the working environment), which helps employers to effectively fulfil their duty of protection and prevent sexual harassment. The study and more information on the #betriebsklimaschutz campaign can be found here.

The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (ADS for its initials in German) was established when the General Equal Treatment Act (German abbreviation: AGG) entered into force in August 2006. This Act aims to prevent or eliminate any discrimination on grounds of racism or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.