The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has called for complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace to be covered by protected disclosure legislation.

The Congress has informed Minister for Employment Affairs Regina Doherty that an amendment to existing legislation would ensure stronger protection for people suffering workplace sexual harassment and help remove barriers to the reporting of abuse.

Currently reports of sexual harassment are treated as 'workplace grievances', and under the new proposals complainants would be ensured of stronger protection and reporting mechanisms.

Congress General Secretary Patricia King described the proposed change as "a potential game changer and a major step forward for those suffering such abuse."

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms King said the reason she is seeking this is based on the experience of dealing with such cases over several years.

She said that in some cases the alleged perpetrator may be the most senior person in the organisation, and that under the Protected Disclosure Act there is an option that the worker can actually refer their complaint to an external prescribed body. 

She said: "A major deterrent or obstacle for workers experiencing such behaviour and in bringing forward a grievance, that grievance usually ends up in the worker having a great fear of reprisal or retribution.

"In our view that prescribed body should, in these instances, be the Workplace Relations Committee or the Health and Safety Authority where somebody can make the referral in confidence.

"The referral would only last up until the investigative process because the employer is legally obliged to offer a good investigative process." she said.

Ms King has written to Minister Doherty setting out the case for a change to existing legislation.

The letter states: "The Employment Equality Act (1998) adequately defines sexual harassment. It clearly identifies that such harassment constitutes discrimination and, as such, is contrary to the law.

"However it stipulates that any infringement is regarded as a 'grievance' and therefore a worker is obliged to submit any such complaint or claim directly to the employer only."