Harassment and sexual harassment

The obligations of the employer towards the work environment extend to social aspects as well. Most notably, the work environment should be free of victimisation, bullying, harassment, threats and violence. 

Harassment is defined by law (Discrimination act) as unwanted behaviour that violates the dignity of a person and is connected to discrimination along one of the seven lines: gender, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation or age. Harassment may include, for example, comments, texts, images, or gestures alluding to one of the grounds of discrimination. 

Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour that offends a person’s dignity and is of a sexual nature. It may take the form of comments, insinuations, unwanted touching, sexual jokes, taking photographs, sharing pornography etc. 

It is the person subjected to harassment or sexual harassment that decides what is unwanted and offensive. What a person experiences as unwanted or offensive may not correspond to the legal definition of harassment, but one is always entitled to speak up, document the incidents, and ask for an investigation into behavior one experiences as harassment. 

The employer’s responsibility towards the work environment means that there should be preventive measures taken against harassment. At the very least, these include clear expectations about roles in the workplace and clear communication from the management that harassment and sexual harassment are not accepted.

The Work Environment Agency states that according to law the employer must work proactively with active measures to prevent sexual harassment and harassment, by following these steps:

  • investigate if there are risks that harassment can occur,
  • analyse the reasons for the risks they find,
  • take measures to prevent harassment,
  • monitor and evaluate the work done in the previous steps.

The Agency recommends that some guidelines are be in place for handling harassment and sexual harassment. The guidelines should make it clear to whom the victim is to turn to get help quickly, what the employer must do when they receive information that sexual harassment is happening in the workplace, what the employer does with this information, and who in the workplace is responsible for investigating incidents or allegations. Such guidelines should be written down and disseminated to employees. You can ask the HR staff at your employer where to find these guidelines.

If you have been subjected to harassment, or have witnessed someone being subjected to harassment, you can report the incident  to your manager. If this is not possible, you can contact the next level of management. It is a good idea, if you are able to, to make notes about what happened, when and where, and who was present – such notes may be useful in an investigation. 

If you need help or advice, you can turn to the student union, the Ombudperson for doctoral students, or your trade union.