Employees become less tolerant of harassment

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The Independent Online
COMPLAINTS of sexual and racial harassment at work are increasing as employees refuse to tolerate unacceptable behaviour from workmates and superiors.

Both the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission yesterday said they had seen a substantial growth in complaints with many going to industrial tribunals.

Joe Abrams, deputy chair of the CRE, said the commission was finding it difficult to cope with the rise in workplace cases, which had risen 27.4 per cent in the past year. 'People are saying, 'No, we are not going to accept it'. They know that they can do something about harassment,' he told a conference organised by the Institute of Personnel Management.

Joanna Foster, chair of the EOC, said the high profile of sexual harassment cases had increased awareness although the culture of many organisations remained unacceptable. 'It is not only the small firms. Many big employers still don't accept that sexual harassment can take place.'

Employment-based complaints from women in the first eight months of this year have already outstripped last year's total of 3,978. And the number of cases directly involving harassment between January and August was 310 compared with 427 for 1991.

Precise definitions of harassment have made statistics difficult to collect and the CRE says that some form of racial abuse is present in a large percentage of its unfair dismissal cases.

Mr Abrams pointed to a case where Balfour Beatty, the constuction company, had to pay compensation to a worker of mixed race who had been subject to abuse by a foreman. He had been called a 'mongrel', a 'brown bastard' and his mother a 'nigger lover'.

A further example of harassment was of a young Muslim woman who was intimidated by workmates who said they would have to send her on a special course to teach her about sex.

Ms Foster said young women in their first job were the most common victims of sexual harassment. Surveys showed two-thirds of women had experienced sexual harassment, with a quarter making formal complaints.

The IPM said yesterday that 88 per cent of personnel managers admitted their organisations had no written policy of how to deal with complaints and 63 per cent had no procedure to cope with harassment. Lorraine Paddison, the IPM's vice-president concerned with equal opportunities, said any form of harassment was bad for business and could involve clients and customers as well as staff.