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Last updated: 30.08.2023

Sexual harassment – what should I do?

Sexual harassment may be verbal, non-verbal, or physical. It is always unwelcome, one-sided, and against the wishes of the target.

Whether deliberate or unintentional, sexual harassment violates the emotional or bodily integrity of the target by creating an atmosphere that is threatening, hostile, degrading, humiliating, oppressive, or distressing. 

Sexual harassment may include physical contact, obscene or suggestive remarks, verbal advances, intruding on the target’s personal space, catcalling, or photographs, for example. What decides the matter is that the target finds the behaviour unacceptable. 

Sexual harassment at work 

Sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace is commonly seen as happening within the work community. The service sector is different in that sexual harassment also comes from customers especially. 

In the 2020 survey organised by PAM, 57 per cent of women working in the service sector reported experiencing sexual harassment.

Read more about the survey (in Finnish)

What should I do if I experience harassment at work? 

Get help. It takes strength to address harassment, and the processing of harassment cases may cause conflicts in the workplace that use up your energy. Contact your occupational safety representative or union representative. You can get advice from PAM’s employment relationship hotline. 

If you experience serious physical abuse by a customer or workmate, contact the police. Rape is always a criminal offence. 

If your employer is unable to stop the harassment, the situation must be reported to the occupational health and safety authorities. If the employer is found to have neglected their occupational health and safety obligations, they may face charges.  

If you are harassed by a member of your work community: 

1. Tell the person to stop the harassment 

If you experience sexual harassment, tell the harasser to stop. Your first task is to let the harasser know that their behaviour is unwelcome. This is important to make it clear to the harasser that their behaviour is unacceptable. It is possible that the harasser has misread the situation and thinks that their behaviour is not harassment. 

2. If the harassment continues, report it to your supervisor 

If the person harassing you continues in spite of your objections, report the situation to your supervisor. If you are being harassed by your supervisor, report it to their supervisor instead. Prepare to explain what has occurred and when. 

By law, the employer has an obligation to resolve the situation (Act on Equality between Women and Men (pdf), Non-discrimination Act (pdf), and Occupational Safety and Health Act (pdf)). In practice, the employer must order the person committing the harassment to stop the behaviour. If harassment continues regardless, the employer may issue a warning to the harasser. The employer may ultimately dismiss the harasser, if necessary. 

3. If no action is taken, report the situation to the authorities 

If you have reported the harassment to your employer, but they refuse to act on it, fail to stop the harassment, or are committing the harassment themselves, contact PAM’s employment relationship hotline, the Finnish Ombudsman for Equality, or the occupational health and safety authorities

If your employer fails to act to stop sexual harassment, their conduct is considered discrimination in accordance with the Non-discrimination Act. The employer may also be found guilty of neglecting or violating their occupational health and safety responsibilities. 

If you are harassed by a customer: 

1. Tell the person to stop the harassment 

Using the agreed upon methods of your workplace, tell the customer that their behaviour is unacceptable. 

2. Report the matter to your supervisor 

Your employer is responsible for keeping your work environment healthy and safe. Your employer must issue instructions for sexual harassment by customers: for example, they can give permission to stop serving the customer, if necessary. 

Prepare your workplace rules 

Your workplace should have a plan and instructions in place for harassment or bullying. They establish the necessary methods and tools for handling harassment, should it occur. This commits your workplace to zero tolerance for harassment and bullying, and informs every member of the work community of what is acceptable and what is prohibited. We recommend preparing measures for harassment by a customer. 

In the 2015 survey organised by PAM, more than 65 per cent of the respondents said that their workplace had no instructions for preventing and stopping sexual harassment. 

The Non-discrimination Act requires a non-discrimination plan for all workplaces with more than 30 workers. Part of preparing the plan is a survey of workers regarding the state of discrimination in the workplace. If the survey indicates that workers have experienced sexual harassment by workmates or customers, measures for correcting the situation must be included in the plan. 

Useful links 

See also