Calls for changes to legislation on remote workplace sexual harassment

A new survey shows a rise in sexual harassment of remote workers since the pandemic began and more people moved to homeworking.

 

Almost half of workplace sexual harassment cases are now taking place online, according to a new survey, reflecting how perpetrators are finding new ways to continue harassing women.

The survey by sexual harassment helpline Rights of Women found that 45% of women being subjected to workplace sexual harassment now say it is taking place remotely, including sexual messages, cyber harassment (for instance, via Zoom, Teams, Slack etc) and sexual calls.

One woman said working from home has enabled her harassers to further invade her privacy. She said: “Having to let colleagues into my bedroom (via video meetings) means I feel my privacy has been invaded and nowhere is safe. The men now have more ammunition to mock me with. Another spoke of her experience of cyber harassment via Zoom: “The director of the company uses Zoom to take screenshots of myself and other women which he shares with colleagues, making derogatory statements and implying the photos look like we’re doing sexual acts.” And another said: “The fact it’s on Zoom in front of others in a jokey manner makes it difficult to address.”

Twenty three per cent who have experienced sexual harassment at work say the misconduct worsened when they had to work remotely after the March lockdown. More than four in 10 victims of sexual harassment at work say they experienced either some or all of the misconduct online.

The polling also shows women who have been harassed are finding it much harder to seek justice. Seventy two per cent who had been harassed said they did not feel their employer was doing enough to protect them and 29 per cent of women who have reported harassment during the pandemic say the Covid situation has delayed or otherwise negatively affected any attempt to address it.

Deeba Syed, senior legal officer at Rights of Women, said legislation needs to be tightened to stop offenders. Rights of Women is calling on the Government to strengthen the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) ‘Sexual harassment at work technical guidance’ and make it statutory for all employers. Rights of Women also wants the Government to publish its response to its ‘Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’ September 2019 consultation, which was due in spring of this year.

Syed commented: “Until legislation and guidance reflect the lived realities of women, whether working from home or on-site, no space is safe from harassment and abuse for women at work.”

The news comes as a Deloitte survey out this week shows one in four British employees could end up working from home long term, with 98% of CFOs predicting more flexible and homeworking – with homeworking predicted to rise five-fold by 2025 compared to pre-pandemic levels. An Office for National Statistics survey last week showed 16% of businesses intend to use increased homeworking as a permanent business model going forward. Meanwhile, Standard Chartered has signed an agreement with serviced office network IWG that will allow staff to work away from central offices as part of a move towards permanent flexible working at the London-headquartered bank. The deal allows Standard Chartered’s 95,000 employees access to 3,500 offices around the world for a trial period of 12 months. This will give them the option to work in more convenient locations closer to home while benefiting from office facilities.

In further news reflecting Covid-related flexible working changes, the Financial Conduct Authority has told bankers they must record all communications while working from home. “At the start of the pandemic, if your firm moved to an alternative site or a working from home arrangement, we asked you to consider the broader control environment in view of the new circumstances,” the regulator said in guidance updated on Friday. “Given the extensive duration of these arrangements, we now expect you to record all relevant communications (including voice calls) when working outside the office,” it said.



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