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The ‘Hidden Epidemic’ of Sexual Harassment of LGBT+ People in the Workplace

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has reported that nearly seven in ten lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT+) people have been sexually harassed at work.


In October 2017, the #MeToo campaign went viral. The campaign sparked global conversations about the prominence of sexual harassment in the workplace, and many women felt comfortable coming forward to tell their stories.

Until now it has largely been the voices of heterosexual women which have been heard clearest. The experiences of LGBT+ people have been overlooked in the #MeToo movement, and the TUC report sought to correct this.

The Survey

TUC surveyed 1,151 adult LGBT+ workers to better understand their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. TUC asked these workers whether they had experienced any form of sexual harassment, either within the last year or more than 12 months ago. These forms ranged from comments of a sexual nature through to incidents of serious sexual assault. The results revealed a hidden epidemic of sexual harassment of LGBT+ people in the workplace.

68% of those surveyed stated that they had been sexually harassed at work. The most prevalent form of sexual harassment concerned inappropriate comments, including hearing comments of a sexual nature about an LGBT+ colleague (47%), and being subjected to inappropriate comments or questions, including questions about their intimate personal lives (42%).

Of the 68% who had been sexually harassed at work, only two thirds reported it to their employers. Many of those who chose not to raise a complaint believed that reporting the incident would have a negative impact on their career (44%) and that the perpetrator would not be sufficiently punished in any event (40%). Only 10% of those who did raise their concerns were satisfied that they had been taken seriously and that the matter had been dealt with satisfactorily. Worryingly, those affected did not believe that their employer was able to properly deal with their complaint(s). It is more important than ever in light of this that employers have proper procedures in place to allow all employees to report any and all incidents of sexual harassment and/or other discriminatory treatment without fear of consequence.

Respondents also reported that sexual harassment had negatively impacted their mental health (16%) and that they had left their jobs as a result (16%).

An Intersectional Problem

The survey also revealed higher levels of sexual harassment towards female, BME and disabled LGBT+ staff. LGBT+ women were more than twice as likely to experience unwanted touching, sexual assault, and serious sexual assault than men in the workplace.

LGBT+ BME women were nearly twice as likely to experience these forms of sexual assault than white women, whilst BME men were nearly twice as likely to be subjected to unwelcome verbal sexual advances as their counterparts. Disabled LGBT+ staff were more than 2-3 times more likely to experience any form of sexual harassment than their non-disabled counterparts.

Co-ordination between LGBT+ groups and groups for disabled or BME employees in the workplace will help provide better support systems for all employees, including those employees most at risk. From an employers’ perspective, this will demonstrate that it values all of its staff, is aware of the disproportionate impact on intersectional groups, and is committed to reducing all forms of sexual harassment and/or other discriminatory treatment in the workplace.

TUC’s Recommendations for Employers

These include:

  • Making all work policies inclusive
  • Reviewing existing policies to ensure that all LGBT+ staff have appropriate forms of recourse and feel able to use those policies in confidence and without fear of repercussion
  • Adopting a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of sexual harassment and/or other discriminatory treatment
  • Providing training on how managers should deal with complaints in a sensitive and confidential manner, as well as training in the area of unconscious bias
  • Taking true responsibility and accountability for the prevention of sexual harassment of LGBT+ persons in the workplace

Diversity and inclusion should be recognised, celebrated and promoted and employers should further commit themselves to promote equal opportunities, regardless of LGBT+status.The benefit of such practices will only go towards fostering a more engaged and productive workforce and all staff having greater job satisfaction, minimising work absences, attracting and retaining talent and assisting in eradicating any and all forms of unacceptable prejudice within the workplace.

Further suggested practices to support an all-inclusive working environment can also be found in our previous article.


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