4 minute read | April.30.2018
(No) Issue in Germany?
The ongoing #metoo discussion certainly has arrived in Germany. However, so far, sexual harassment and misconduct haven't been a major topic of investigation or revelation in Germany. Other than in the U.S., in Germany no major cases of politicians, corporate executives or celebrities accused, sued, or terminated for inappropriate behavior have become publicly known. Only the case of a well-known award-winning TV and film director gained some traction in Germany.
Increased Awareness and Reporting
Even so, according to a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of German news agency dpa, nearly one in five men in Germany say they have sexually harassed another person. In the survey 18 % of men say they have acted in a way that "could have been deemed inappropriate or sexually abusive" by the other person.
Ever since a growing number of women began revealing experiences of sexual harassment as part of the #MeToo movement in the U.S., women in Germany have also been speaking up. There is both, an increased awareness of the issues and reporting of incidents. Incidents now are being reported that might not have been reported pre-#MeToo.
How are employers supposed to handle such incidents and what – preventive and repressive – measures must employers take in Germany?
Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment
The German General Equal Treatment Act (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz – AGG) ("AGG") grants employees considerable rights and makes clear precisely what constitutes sexual harassment. It includes unwanted physical contact, leering, lewd looks, sexual comments, sexist jokes or the displaying of pornographic material. A single action may constitute sexual harassment.
Employer's Obligations to Act
German law is quite strict when it comes to workplace sexual harassment. Employers are required to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace – many employers do not seem to be aware of this and that they need to take action in order to comply.
The AGG prescribes a wide set of employers' obligations to prevent sexual harassment as well as obligations to react to detected sexual harassment. In general, the employer has the duty to take measures necessary to ensure protection against any discrimination which includes sexual harassment. This also includes preventive measures.
The employer shall draw attention to the inadmissibility of such discrimination in a suitable manner, in particular within the context of training and further training, and shall use their influence to ensure that such discrimination does not occur. Where violations occur, the employer shall take suitable, necessary and appropriate measures, assessed on a case-by-case basis, to put a stop to the discrimination; this may include issuing a warning, moving, relocating or dismissing the employee in question.
Shop Agreements as Preventive Measure
Since preventive measures against sexual harassment concern the business organization and the employee's behavior at work, the works council has co-determination rights under the Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz – BetrVG).
Therefore, if a works council exists, it is advisable to include specific provisions on how to prevent sexual harassment in a shop agreement (Betriebsvereinbarung) which is binding upon all employees. However, according a survey by television show "Report Mainz", only eight out of 30 DAX companies have adopted shop agreements explicitly addressing sexual harassment.
So what should be addressed in a shop agreement?