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Survey of Akava affiliates: A quarter of employees feel their employers do nothing to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

News article

At its worst, harassment can harm an employee’s mental health. A survey of the affiliates of Akava found that only less than a third of employers have intervened with sexual harassment that constitutes a criminal offence. Employees demand more effective measures.

In a survey of the affiliates of Akava including Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK, the majority of respondents had not noticed any sexual harassment in their workplace over the past three years. However, when sexual harassment does occur, there is plenty of room for improvement in terms of how workplaces address the issue.

Just over a third of the survey respondents reported that their employer has prepared guidelines for addressing harassment incidents. Internal training and harassment contact persons are less common.

One in four said that their employer had not done anything about the issue. The problem is not always that there are no guidelines in place, but that the information never reaches the employees, says Research Manager Susanna Bairoh from the Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK.

“The management may know about the guidelines for preventing sexual harassment, but the employees do not. That’s when you need to look at who is responsible for communicating this information.”

Especially younger respondents under 30 said that they are not sure if their workplace addresses harassment or not. Bairoh argues that this is a sign of trust.

“Even if they haven’t encountered any harassment, can the employees trust their employer to address it if it occurs? Employers need to be able to build this type of trust.”

Harassment has a wide range of consequences that affect the victims. Mild consequences include the victim not attending social events in the workplace, whereas severe consequences include negative health outcomes. Harassment can also affect career progression, especially if the perpetrator is in a leading position.

Employers legally obligated to address harassment

Having guidelines or appointing a harassment contact person does not necessarily mean that harassment is definitely occurring. However, putting some guidelines in place makes it easier to address any incidents that do occur. Employers are actually legally obligated to prepare for various situations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Preventing harassment is the best way to root out harassment. It is also a cost-effective way.
- Sirkku Pohja, TEK

Legal Counsel Maria Färkkilä, who provides employment and public-service employment counselling at the Association of Finnish Lawyers, regularly comes across harassment cases as part of her job. She points out that employers are obligated, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, to actively take measures and address the situation as soon as they become aware of harassment.

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act applies to workplaces of all sizes. If an employer neglects their duties and does not take sufficient measures in the workplace to end harassment after becoming aware of it, the employer could also be guilty of an offence,” says Färkkilä.

She also refers to the revised legislation on sexual offences. The section in the Criminal Code concerning sexual harassment now not only concerns physical acts, but also verbal or other acts, such as showing or sending a picture or a message. The threshold of a criminal offence is therefore much lower than before.

Prevention is the best intervention

“Preventing harassment is the best way to root out harassment. It is also a cost-effective way,” says Work Life Specialist Sirkku Pohja from the Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK.

She notes that shop stewards play an important role in dealing with various conflicts in the workplace.

“A shop steward can discuss the issue with a representative of the employer and communicate the instructions, advice and information to the people they represent, i.e., the employees. The shop steward is considered an equal, which means that people will also listen to them.”

The survey on sexual harassment at work

The survey was conducted among 17 affiliates of Akava. The affiliates involved were the Finnish Association of Academic Agronomists, Akava Special Branches, AKI-unions, the Union of Professional Engineers in Finland, the Association of Finnish Lawyers, the Finnish Union of Church Youth Workers, the Union of Technical Professionals KTK, the Finnish Association of Rehabilitation Professionals, the Union of Professionals in Natural, Environmental and Forestry Sciences Loimu, Talentia Union of Professional Social Workers, the Finnish Business School Graduates, the Finnish Veterinary Association, the Finnish Medical Association, Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK, Professionals of Business and Technology, Social Science Professionals and YTY – Association for Managers and Professionals.

The survey was conducted by Taloustutkimus 30 May – 18 June 2023 and it received responses from 5 931 people.

What topics does TEK study?

We at TEK are constantly researching the field of technology: employment, salaries, equality, and coping with work or studies, for example. We have studied and published information on many themes for years – you are welcome to examine and compare the results using, for example, time series visualizations. Read more about our research: www.tek.fi/research