Cases of bullying and sexual harassment in Portuguese workplaces have almost doubled over the past year, according to the Authority for Working Conditions, which recorded 140 crimes in 2011.
Since 2009, the body has made 1,515 workplace inspections where there were reported cases of bullying and sexual harassment. In three years there were 299 confirmed cases and fines of €913,000 were issued.
The figures also indicate that these crimes are increasing. In 2011, the number of cases almost doubled from 79 in 2010.
‘This is indicative that something is happening in terms of offending behaviour, or people are becoming more courageous in reporting cases,’ the inspector general for employment told Lusa news agency.
And reality is far more dramatic than the official numbers reveal, Lusa reported.
Those who deal daily with these cases know many stories where the ‘fear of reprisal’ or ‘pure ignorance of the law’ silences these crimes.
‘There is little information available and many people do not even know whom to turn to. Moreover, people fear reporting them because they fear reprisals and do not have the support of colleagues, because they too are afraid,’ said Catherine Paulos, a psychologist.
Few decide to proceed with action against their employer and even those who do not give up invariably face lengthy court battles of typically three years. Even if they win in court, the damages are puny – of the order of €2,500-5,000 for ‘moral injury’.
‘It is easier for people to leave their job and not get involved in these legal cases,’ explained psychologist Catherine Paulos, noting that usually the victims are already emotionally fragile.
Experts such as Catherine Paulos know countless stories of depression caused by problems at work and underlines that besides the victims themselves, these conditions also affect their families, including ‘many cases that end in divorce.’
The inspector general of employment José Luís Forte insisted that the ‘upward trend’ must be tackled.
‘In [economic] crises people don’t only express solidarity but also the worst in them: taking advantage of disadvantage and inferiority to trample on other people’s dignity.
‘Workers need to be aware that they shouldn’t be under pressure of a moral – much less sexual – nature. This type of behaviour must be vigorously prosecuted [in the courts].’