Dealing with sexual harassment
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.