Workplace harassment claims on the rise

More members are coming forward to report harassment and those who do are increasingly involving their superiors in the hopes that something will be done about it. Being ashamed about what someone else did to you is a thing of the past.

For some, it’s an explicit picture left on their desk. For others, it’s unwanted comments or touching. Still others reach out because they’ve been bullied. 

While there are no precise statistics about the number of members contacting Djøf to report that they have been harassed, all indications are that it’s growing.

This summer, for example, the group of advisors assigned to our student members received five reports of various forms of workplace harassment. During last year’s julefrokost season, about 10 members contacted us, compared with only one or two in previous years, according to Mette Knudsen, Djøf’s head of consulting. 

“In the past, we got a few complaints at Christmas, and maybe one in connection with a company summer party, but otherwise it was crickets the rest of the year. A lot more people are reporting harassment now, and not just the sort that goes on during social events.”

Her explanation: #metoo.“If someone explains how they’ve been harassed, and if their story sounds like an experience you’ve had, then you’re going to realise that what you experienced was harassment,” Knudsen says.

Totally out of line

Another explanation, she reckons, is a change in gender-equality legislation that made all forms offensive comments harassment. Other measures, such granting occupational health and safety authorities more power to stop harassment, might also be playing a role (see below).

In general, Knudsen finds that people reporting harassment today have a different attitude about their situation.

“Not long ago, when someone – typically a woman – reported being harassed, she was mostly looking to be told that, yes, she had been harassed,” Knudsen says. “But, beyond that, she wasn’t interested in rocking the boat and there was always a fear of being labelled as a troublemaker. Today, women are adamant about making sure that everyone knows that the treatment they were subjected to was totally out of line.”

Gone, too, are any second-thoughts about involving superiors. 

“They are much more willing to go to their boss or someone in HR. In the past, that was rare.”

Djøf’s recommendation to members who feel they’ve been harassed is to involve a superior or HR.

An ounce of corporate prevention

The trend is something that other unions have taken note of as well. HK, a clerical union, has helped ten members take legal action in cases of alleged harassment this year, according to a LinkedIn post.

Dansk Erhverv, a business lobby, has long offered to provide consulting to member firms if an employee reports being harassed. While the number seeking help after the fact hasn’t changed, more are focusing on prevention, in part because they face stiffer penalties if they are found to have been at fault in some way, according to Tina Buch Olsson, a senior consultant.

“It’s natural that firms are now looking at ways to prevent all forms of workplace harassment,” Olsson says. “At one time, company values were kind of belittled; they were phrases firms put on their coffee cups. Today, though, they are getting a second look as companies seek to define what ‘respect’ is and to come up with guidelines for the way we treat each other.”

The greater awareness of workplace harassment benefits everyone, Knudsen believes. She’s also pleased that victims are starting to feel more comfortable speaking up about their experiences.

“In the first place, people shouldn’t have to feel ashamed or embarrassed about something that someone else did to them. But it also makes it more likely that the problem will get dealt with.”

This article is published by Djøfbladet. It originally appeared in Danish online at djoefbladet.dk.

Redefining sexual harassment

Changes to the Act on Equal Treatment of Men and Women as Regards Access to Employment (in Danish: Ligebehandlingsloven) that took effect on the 1st of January expanded the definition of unequal treatment to include sexual harassment. 

Previously, sexually oriented comments were not considered sexual harassment if such language was considered normal for a specific workplace, and if the person making the comments did not expect – or could not have expected – someone to be offended by them. 

The change means that an employee, regardless of how other employees previously were accustomed to speaking with each other, can complain over comments he or she finds offensive, if the comments would generally be considered out of place in a professional setting.

The change also increased the compensation for victims of harassment. 

More power to the authorities

Another change has made it possible for the Working Environment Authority (Arbejdstilsynet) to sanction firms in all instances of harassment. Previously, it was only permitted to act in cases of systematic bullying or sexual harassment. 

Source: Djøf