Sexual Harassment

The following information about sexual harassment has been taken from the Irish Statute Book, produced by the Office of the Attorney General, describing the Employment Equality Act 1998 (Code of Practice) (Harassment) Order 2012.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any type of unwanted sexual behavior. It can be verbal, non-verbal or physical behavior. It can happen to people of any gender or sexual identity. Sexual harassment can violate a person’s dignity and create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person or workplace. It is prohibited by the Irish Statute’s Employment Equality Act 1998.

Unwanted conduct can include verbal speech, suggestive or lewd gestures, or written words, photographs, drawings or other material. This includes offensive gestures or facial expressions, unwelcome and offensive calendars, screen-savers, e-mails and any other offensive material.

What does sexual harassment do? What’s the harm of a little fun?

Sexual harassment harms the working environment and can have a devastating effect on the overall happiness, health, confidence, attitude and performance of who are impacted.

The anxiety and stress produced by sexual harassment can cause those subjected to it to take time off work due to sickness and stress, or to avoid the harassment. This can also have impacts on the lives of those being harassed.

Sexual harassment may also have a damaging impact on employees who witness unwanted behaviour, or have knowledge of the harassment.

What are the types of sexual harassment?

There are a few different types of sexual harassment, although one experience or action could fall into multiple categories.

  • Physical conduct of a sexual nature —Unwanted physical contact such as unnecessary touching, patting or pinching or brushing against another person’s body. It can also include assault and coercive sexual intercourse, which are also considered sexual assault or rape.
  • Verbal conduct of a sexual nature —Unwelcome sexual advances, propositions or pressure for sexual activity. This could also include persistent suggestions for social activity outside the workplace after it has been made clear that such suggestions are unwelcome (i.e. continually being asked for a pint despite multiple refusals), unwanted or offensive flirtations, suggestive remarks, innuendos or lewd comments.
  • Non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature — For example, the display of pornographic or sexually suggestive photographs or drawings, objects, written materials, emails, or text messages. This type of harassment can also include leering, whistling or making sexually suggestive gestures.
  • Gender-based conduct — Conduct that denigrates, ridicules, is intimidatory or physically abusive of an employee because of their gender identification. Examples of gender-based sexual harassment include derogatory or degrading abuse or insults which are gender-related, such as making negative jokes about women.
Is what happened to me sexual harassment? What are some examples of sexual harassment?

Many forms of behaviour, including spoken words, gestures or the display/circulation of words, pictures or other material, may constitute harassment. Sexual harassment does not have to occur many times: a single incident may be considered harassment.

These examples are illustrative, but not comprehensive to what sexual harassment may include:

Verbal harassment – jokes, comments, ridicule or suggestive songs

Written harassment – including memos, text messages, emails or other forms

Physical harassment – touching, jostling, shoving or any form of assault

Intimidatory harassment – gestures, posturing or threatening poses

Visual displays such as posters, emblems or badges

Excessive monitoring of work motivated with intention to harass based on gender or sexuality

Exclusion from social activities motivated with intention to harass based on gender or sexuality

Unreasonably changing a person’s job content or targets motivated with intention to harass based on gender or sexuality

Pressure to behave in a manner that the employee is uncomfortable with, such as being asked to dress in a manner in conflict with a person’s ethnic or religious background.

Is all sexual behavior harassment? What is okay? What counts as “unwelcome” behavior?

The Employment Equality Act does not prohibit all relations of a sexual or social nature in the workplace (although a workplace may have a separate policy prohibiting such behavior). To constitute sexual harassment the behaviour must be unwelcome. It is the unwanted nature of the conduct which distinguishes sexual harassment from consensual behavior.

It is up to each person to decide what behaviour is unwelcome, despite what others may think about the situation. It is also important to consider from whom such behaviour is welcome or unwelcome, irrespective of what others may think. For example, it is okay for one peer to flirt with you at work, but not another? If the person is made aware that their flirtation is undesired, they must stop and cannot use flirting with others as an excuse.

If someone has previously enjoyed or welcomed sexual behavior, it absolutely is within that person’s right to later decide that it has become unwelcome.

I don’t think they meant to sexually harass anyone. They don’t know what they’re doing. Does that matter?

The intention of the perpetrator of the sexual harassment is irrelevant: it is our own responsibility to ensure that we are not acting inappropriately with others and to be aware of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate conduct. The fact that the perpetrator has no intention of sexually harassing or harassing the employee is no defence. The effect of the behaviour on the employee is what is important.

The Employment Equality Act protects employees from sexual harassment and harassment by:

— the employer

— fellow employees

— clients

— customers

— other business contacts, including anyone whom the employer might expect the employee to come into contact in the workplace.

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