Sexual harassment and precarious employment

International research reveals how workers in precarious employment are more exposed to unwanted sexual behaviour and harassment in the workplace than their colleagues in non-precarious settings. The study, coordinated by the Department of Psychology of Sapienza, has been published on PLoS ONE

A study recently published on PLoS ONE Journal, carried out by a team of international scholars, led by Marvin Reuter and Nico Dragano, and which included including Antonio Chirumbolo and Claudio Barbaranelli of the Department of Psychology of Sapienza University, estimated the association between precarious work and unwanted sexual attention and sexual harassment, by analysing a sample of 63,966 employees, representative of the European working population of 33 countries.

The survey took into account some important socio-demographic variables: age, education, type of household, job tenure, weekly working hours, occupational position, working sector, company size, workplace gender ratio.

"The outcomes" - says Antonio Chirumbolo - "highlights how people in precarious employment may be more likely to experience unwanted sexual behaviour and sexual harassment in the workplace than their colleagues employed in non-precarious contexts. These risks are particularly high, both for men and women, especially when precarious employment is associated with unpredictable working hours and multiple job holding".

The researchers registered experiences of unwanted sexual attention in the workplace during the last month and sexual harassment in the last 12 months each using a single-item questionnaire. 0.8% of men reported unwanted sexual attention in the last month compared to 2.6% of women. Women, therefore, report having been subjected to unwanted sexual attention three times more frequently than men.

In the last year, sexual harassment has been reported by 0.4% of the men compared to 1.3% of the women. Again, women report being sexually harassed three times more frequently than men. However, for both men and women, job insecurity was found to be significantly associated with an increased prevalence of unwanted sexual attention and sexual harassment. More precisely, men in precarious employment are 39% more likely to receive sexual attention and 58% more likely to suffer sexual harassment than those in stable employment. In contrast, women in precarious employment are 28% more likely to receive unwanted sexual attention and 17% more likely to be sexually harassed than women in stable and secure jobs. Nevertheless, disparities between precarious men and women in the probability of receiving unwanted sexual attention and sexual harassment were not statistically significant.

According to the study, three specific mechanisms could underlie the relationship between precariousness and sexual harassment.

"Job insecurity is often associated with a greater risk of job loss" - says Claudio Barbaranelli – "that is why fear of losing their job may prevent the precarious workers reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.
Moreover, precarious work has weaker legislative and institutional regulations, with less defined work standards; since precarious workers have less access to formal reporting systems within their companies, they may be prevented from disclosing sexual harassment.
Finally, the higher level of flexibility and turnover in precarious employment leads to a higher degree of anonymity and lower risk of being caught in case of harassment. If the victim is a precarious or temporary employee, the perpetrator tends to perceive sexual harassment as less risky.



Precarious employment and self-reported experiences of unwanted sexual attention and sexual harassment at work. An analysis of the European Working Conditions Survey - Marvin Reuter, Morten Wahrendorf, Cristina Di Tecco, Tahira M. Probst, Antonio Chirumbolo, Stefanie Ritz-Timme, Claudio Barbaranelli, Sergio Iavicoli, Nico Dragano - Published: May 28, 2020


Further Information

Antonio Chirumbolo
Department of Psychology

Friday, 12 June 2020

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