Employers don’t do enough about sexual harassment

Cases of sexual harassment, which mostly affect women, are still often denied or covered up. Adequate protective measures are rarely taken.

Safety at work also means protection from sexual harassment. According to Statistics Austria, 27% of women have experienced this type of harassment. Reason enough for the Vienna Chamber of Labor (AK) to evaluate more than 150 of their consulting and representation cases in over five years. The upshot: Employers are still woefully inadequate in their duty of care, the AK announced at a press conference on Monday.

According to the AK, many employers still turn a blind eye and don’t want to address the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. They are not yet sufficiently aware of their responsibility for prevention and remedy: they deny accidents, sweep them under the carpet and do not take adequate protective measures.

expression of power relations

As an extreme example, the AK cited a landlady who covered for her partner after he sexually harassed a waitress who worked for her. When the employee reported the harassment to her boss, she said she was still young and that she needed to learn to deal with this behavior.

Sexual harassment is often an expression of power relations and predominantly affects women. This can be a “friendly” slap, a suggestive insinuation, or an outright physical assault. According to the AK, employers must take remedial action as part of their duty of care, even if customer abuse occurs. Shifting responsibility to the women concerned is clearly inadmissible. There is no behavior committed by the victim that warrants sexual harassment or assault.

Mostly in the hotel and hospitality industry

Of the cases that ended up in court, 32 out of 33 involved women. They were between 16 and 60 years old. The majority, i.e. 14 cases, concerned the hotel and restaurant sector. Most harassment started from the very beginning. Only two business relationships have not been resolved. Terminations were mostly made by the employer. In half of the cases, the harassment was followed by (extended) sick leave. Only isolated corrective measures were taken against the harasser. Compensation was paid in 80 percent of cases.

According to the AK, women often endure unbearable working conditions and abuse for a long time due to economic pressure. This pressure has only increased due to the Corona crisis. Now it’s inflation. An interested person from the catering industry said, for example, that she accepted the attacks for so long because she urgently needed the Christmas bonus and wanted to wait until it was paid.

It needs a clear sign of zero tolerance

The #MeToo movement has made an important contribution to education and awareness around the world in the fight against sexual harassment. The debate has encouraged many victims to report the incidents. Since then the AK has also noticed an increase in consultations. Both the persons concerned and their colleagues and works councils asked questions on this topic or asked for representation and advice in specific cases.

The Vienna Chamber of Labor is convinced that further efforts are needed to combat or eliminate sexual harassment. Employers are particularly responsible. In any case, management must send a clear signal that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. The prevention work is particularly important, if this is missing, then you must be able to ask for at least 5,000 euros in damages.


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