Norway’s strategy in the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace

Campaing against sexual harassement in HORECA in Norway

Interview with senior adviser ms. Gro Synnøve Rygh Færevåg, The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority

– First of all, please tell us something more about Norway’s strategy in the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace.

In 2015 the Norwegian Government presented a strategy for combating work-related crime.

The Government intends both to combat work-related crime and to promote responsible and sound working conditions by means of broad cooperation between the public authorities and the social partners on prevention, knowledge sharing and enforcement.

One of the meaures in this strategy is tripartite sectorial cooperation in exposed sectors, like for instance the HORECA-sector. We base our activities on research, and have started all these cooperations by commisioning reports from the research institute Fafo. The Fafo-report on this sector that was published in 2014 identifies several serious issues related to the working conditions and work environment. One of the issues was the high exposure to sexual harassment. At that time, we decided to concentrate our work on other issues, perhaps because we were not sure about how to address this issue of sexual harassment in a way that would be helpful.

(If you would like to read the strategy, please look here:

– The Norwegian government carried out research on the presence of sexual harassment at work, but what is the definition of sexual harassment at work

However, in 2016 Fafo conducted another survey in the hotel and restaurant industry and in the healthcare sector, and published the results in a report in 2017.

Fafo use the following definition on sexual harassment: “Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention perceived as offensive and intimidating.” They distinguish between three main forms: Physical, which includes a broad spectrum of actions ranging from unwanted touching to rape and attempted rape; verbal, which encompasses sexual allusions and comments; and non-verbal, which encompasses aggressive staring, indecent exposure, showing of erotic pictures etc. Nowadays, we also find that people are exposed to sexual harassment through different apps and social media.

– What is the research saying, who is more exposed, older or younger workers, men or women?

In Norway, we find that 4,7 % of all workers report being exposed to sexual harassment once a month or more often. It has also been documented that women are more exposed than men, and that young workers are more exposed than older workers. Those who are most exposed to sexual harassment are young women.

If we look at different professions, we find that waiters, health care workers and nurses are more likely to get sexual harassed at work than other professions. Therefore, we decided to do a campaign against sexual harassment, starting with the HORECA-sector (more specifically restaurants and bars).

– What are the negative effects of sexual harassment at the workplace?

Studies show that being exposed to sexual harassment over time, can pose a significant hazard to mental health. Sexual harassment can lead to serious mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, especially for women, according to Morten Birkeland Nielsen, a researcher at The National Institute of Occupational Health in Norway.

So – in 2016/2017, after two research reports, we finally decided that it was time to do something about the issue of sexual harassment in the HORECA sector. The Labour Inspection Authorities and the social partners in the sector decided to join forces with the The Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud, and together we started working on the campaign.

– Which are the steps for implementing the campaign?

The next phase of the campaign is to strengthen employers and workers’ action skills in terms of sexual harassment. They know there is a problem. Now it is time to do something about it. And we’ll help them.We are in the process of developing tools (including online guides and real-life courses) that businesses can use, and will put a lot of effort into motivating them to establish sound and systematic systems and procedures in line with the regulations. The tools can also be used in other industries, so we will make sure they are versatile and adaptable across sectors.

Let’s finally draw the line on sexual harassment.

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