Sexual harassment in the workplace
EVERY person is entitled to work in an environment that is free of sexual harassment, where employers and employees respect one another’s integrity and dignity, their privacy, and their right to equity in the workplace. Despite endeavours to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, it remains an insidious problem.
Any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature is regarded as sexual harassment. It includes inter alia physical conduct of a sexual nature that may range from touching to sexual assault or even a strip search by or in the presence of the opposite sex.
Sexual harassment does not have to be physical and therefore includes verbal forms of sexual harassment such as unwelcome innuendoes, comments with sexual overtones, sex-related jokes or insults or even the display of sexually explicit pictures.
Although sexual harassment usually relates to the employer and employee relationship, the perpetrators and victims of sexual harassment may include owners, managers, supervisors, clients, suppliers, contractors or others having dealings with a business.
Although most victims of sexual harassment are women, the crime is not gender specific.
The effect of sexual harassment on the victim is not only limited to being threatened with job loss or loss of benefits (such as a promotion) but also includes a cycle of emotional and psychological abuse that may negatively affect their family relationships.
What should you do if you are a victim of sexual harassment at the workplace?
The Labour Relations Act contains a Code of Good Practice on Sexual Harassment that sets out the best ways to deal with complaints.
As sexual harassment is an unfair labour practice employers are legally obliged to develop clear procedures in line with the Code of Good Practice to deal with sexual harassment.
The first step is to tell your harasser to stop the unwelcome conduct. If you are unable to approach your harasser, turn to your colleagues for support.
Make sure that you keep all forms of evidence that prove the harassment such as notes and letters, etc.
If you want to proceed in a formal manner against your harasser you need to specify to whom the employee should lodge the grievance whilst reference must also be made to time frames and provide that if the case is not resolved satisfactorily, the issue can be dealt with in terms of the dispute procedures contained in item 7(7) of this code.
It should furthermore be noted that our legal system makes provision that a victim of sexual harassment may institute a civil and or criminal action against the harasser for violating his/her right to dignity and bodily integrity.