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Harassment at the Workplace

 

In the Equal Treatment Directive (2006/54/EC) published in 2006, the EU defines “harassment” as “unwanted conduct related to the sex of a person which has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.

 

Source: (Official Journal of the European Union, DIRECTIVE 2006/54/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL, Article 2 (1) c) at eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/DE/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32006L0054&from=EN), (accessed on 03.06.2020)

 

Harassment includes verbal insults, bullying, sexual harassment, threats and physical or verbal abuse. Sexual harassment is split into sub-categories, such as sexual slurs, physical coercion, unwanted exposure, etc. Such harassment can lead to great mental stress and emotional strain for those affected. As a result, the motivation, performance and self-esteem of those affected can also be greatly impacted, which in turn can have an effect on the entire corporate culture. 

 

What is the situation regarding sexual harassment?

According to § 12 of the General Equal Treatment Act (“Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz” - AGG), employers are obliged to protect their employees from sexual abuse. Victims not only have the right to make a complaint but also to refuse to work, if necessary. However, the problem is often deducing when sexual harassment has actually occurred, as the experience can differ greatly from person to person. A general distinction is made here between physical, verbal and non-verbal harassment. The General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) can also be used here as a guide. § 3 (4) AGG states:

“Sexual harassment is [...] unwanted, sexually explicit behaviour, including unwanted sexual acts and requests for sexual acts, sexually explicit physical contact, sexual remarks and the unwanted showing or displaying of pornographic images, which has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment is created”. So what is important here is mutual consent.

 

A study commissioned by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency found that one in eleven employed persons (9 percent of respondents) had experienced sexual harassment at work in the past three years. Women (13 percent) were affected almost twice as often as men (5 percent). As employees are already in a very difficult situation, companies should take suitable prevention and control measures to help their employees and protect themselves from possible liability. Employees should be given the opportunity to file anonymous reports so that they do not have to fear reprisals and to promote a culture in which employees' voices are heard and malpractice is not tolerated.

 

See Federal Antidiscrimination Agency at: https://www.antidiskriminierungsstelle.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/publikationen/AGG/agg_gleichbehandlungsgesetz.pdf?__blob=publicationFile (accessed on 03.06.2020).

 

See Federal Antidiscrimination Agency at: https://www.antidiskriminierungsstelle.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/DE/2019/20191025_Studie_Sexuelle_Belaestigung.html (accessed on 03.06.2020).