WARNING SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN ULSTER ON RISE; 166 claims made in Stormont depts; Two civil service complaints upheld; Fury as issue is 'relatively common'.
Byline: MICHAEL McHUGH
THE number of workplace sexual harassment complaints here has risen by almost a third in the past five years.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland said it was "relatively common" and affected all sorts of employers.
The watchdog advised all firms to have a clear policy, properly implemented and made known to all staff.
Its chief Dr Michael Wardlow added: "The Commission has seen the number of calls to our discrimination advice team by people who believe they have experienced sexual harassment at work rise by 31% over the last five years."
In 2012/13, 110 calls were recorded to the discrimination advice line by people who believed they had experienced sexual harassment at work.
That rose to 144 last year. Dr Wardlow said: "Our advice is that all employers should have a clear policy on what behaviour is acceptable in the workplace and what is not.
"And as soon as a claim of sexual harassment is made employers must investigate thoroughly and sensitively, implementing any appropriate follow-up action.
"We provide advice to employers to help them comply with the law and we can also advise and help people who believe they've experienced sexual harassment at work.
"It is clear from our work and the work of others that sexual harassment is still an issue in Northern Ireland."
In an unrelated blog post, the Commission said sexual harassment happened in fast food outlets, care homes, service stations, phone shops, corner shops, banks and laboratories.
It added: "Sexual harassment at work in Northern Ireland is, unfortunately, relatively common." Meanwhile, the Civil Service revealed two sexual harassment complaints have been upheld in Northern Ireland departments over the past five years. One in the Department of Finance was raised in 2015/16.
The other involving the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs dates from 2013/14.
An FOI response also revealed 166 claims of sexual harassment had been made across the Stormont departments over the same period and a further two complaints are under investigation.
Cara Cash, chief executive of the Nexus NI sex abuse counselling organisation for victims, said there was under-reporting of sexual violent crime in general here and beyond.
She added: "We are seeing more conversations about sexual violence than ever, and that is a good thing.
"But there is much more that still needs to be done and we are committed to working with any/all agencies necessary to make sure that the voice of the victim is heard."
Employers need clear policy on what is acceptable behaviour DR MICHAEL WARDLOW yesterday
GROWING PROBLEM Workplace discrimination
ADVICE Dr Michael Wardlow