Violence and harassment at work

ILO: Violence and harassment at work is an occupational risk factor and a source of major health problems

The pandemic has contributed to a surge in violence and harassment at work. At an EESC conference, the ILO discussed the latest findings on this topic and the measures governments have taken in response to this surge.

News | 08 March 2022
On International Women’s Day, the ILO joined a conference on Women in the labour market, hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department, explained that there has been an increase of violence and harassment at work, particularly gender-based violence and harassment, during the pandemic.

A Eurobarometer survey has captured women's opinions on the impact of the pandemic on violence against women, mental health and women’s working lives. According to the study, 77% of women in the EU think that the pandemic has led to an increase in physical and emotional violence against women in their country.  

Whilst teleworking during the pandemic, many women have been exposed to a greater risk of domestic violence and mental health problems, due to heavy additional care work as a result of lockdown measures and unchanged expectations regarding their professional performance.

The pandemic has also taken a heavy toll on health workers. “While workers’ exposure to work-related violence and harassment has typically been high in the health sector compared to others, the pandemic has worsened it,” said Ms Tomei. There have been reports of physical or verbal attacks against doctors, nurses and health staff by family members of COVID-19 patients or neighbours ostracizing them because of fear of infection.

An increased global internet usage since the start of the pandemic has caused a surge in cyber violence and harassment, taking on various forms including online bullying, stalking and hate speech.

Several governments have taken measures to prevent and address violence against health care workers. In Italy, a law enacted in September 2020 addresses violence against health and socio-health professionals through preventive measures, training courses, and the monitoring of episodes of violence.  

Online violence and harassment has also been the subject matter of legislative action in recent times, and some countries have also tried to mitigate the impact of domestic violence on the world of work.

“Gender-based violence and harassment at work is not only a matter of gender discrimination but also an occupational safety and health issue,” said Ms Tomei. “It is an occupational risk factor and a source of major health problems. Therefore, preventive and corrective actions are needed.”

The ratification of the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention n° 190 needs to be accelerated, said Ms Tomei. The instrument has so far been ratified by 11 countries. The Director also underlined the importance of collecting good data on this topic, which is key to set priorities for policy interventions and to monitor their effectiveness.