Deal­ing with sex­ual ha­rass­ment

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Sex­ual ha­rass­ment is co­er­cion of a sex­ual na­ture, or the un­wanted or in­ap­pro­pri­ate prom­ise of re­wards in ex­change for sex­ual favours. In­ap­pro­pri­ate touch­ing, sex­u­ally loaded jokes and ques­tions about your sex life are some of the ways in which one can be sex­u­ally ha­rassed. It is il­le­gal.

The harasser can be a su­pe­rior, a co-worker or even a client, cus­tomer or sup­plier. In South Africa, the Labour Re­la­tions Act ad­dresses sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place. It is any ac­tion that makes the work­place hos­tile, and in­cludes ver­bal trans­gres­sions, sex­ual abuse and sex­ual as­sault.

There are two op­tions avail­able to the vic­tim to ad­dress this. The in­for­mal ap­proach in­cludes:

Con­fronting the abuser and telling him or her that their be­hav­iour makes you un­com­fort­able;

Writ­ing a let­ter to the abuser, keep­ing a copy for your­self, in which you ad­dress the be­hav­iour; or

Ask­ing a third party to tell the abuser they are cross­ing a line. It is in­for­mal be­cause an of­fi­cial or for­mal com­plaint is not laid against the abuser.

The other op­tion is the for­mal ap­proach. Most or­gan­i­sa­tions have a writ­ten code of con­duct and a stip­u­lated process to fol­low should sex­ual ha­rass­ment oc­cur. This will in­clude the per­son or depart­ment where griev­ances should be lodged. It will re­quire ref­er­ence to a time­line of abu­sive oc­cur­rences. The com­pany should fol­low up by in­ves­ti­gat­ing the com­plaint and tak­ing the nec­es­sary dis­ci­plinary ac­tion. The vic­tim has the right to press sep­a­rate crim­i­nal and/or civil charges against the per­pe­tra­tor.

Should he or she feel un­sat­is­fied by in­ter­nal com­pany dis­ci­plinary pro­ce­dures, they may re­fer the mat­ter to the Com­mis­sion for Con­cil­i­a­tion, Me­di­a­tion and Ar­bi­tra­tion for res­o­lu­tion.

The preven­tion of sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place can be aided by a code of con­duct that clearly de­fines sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Ed­u­ca­tional pro­grammes should also be put in place for em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees to be made aware of the guide­lines around sex­ual ha­rass­ment and the ap­pro­pri­ate chan­nels to fol­low should it oc­cur.

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