Although companies may have convinced themselves that sexual harassment is very rare in the workplace, this seems to happen quite often.. South Africa has sound legislation that deals with discrimination and a Constitution that protects the rights of its citizens, but many employees still have to face the reality of sexual abuse.
Sexual harassment in the workplace has recently been placed in the spotlight due to the #MeToo campaign. It was a movement that spread virally on social media platforms in October 2017 to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, particularly in the workplace.
Sexual harassment is generally defined as harassment in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. Recent case law shows that sexual harassment only needs to occur once and does not need to be repetitively for it to constitute ‘sexual harassment.’
The Department of Labour encourages all employers to develop and implement policies and procedures that will lead to the creation of workplaces that are free of sexual harassment, where employers and workers respect one another’s integrity and dignity, their privacy, and their right to equity in the workplace.
Here are a few tips for employers to create a safe work environment and stay clear of any sexual harassment:
- Awareness of the problem
Managers and employees (both male and female) should recognise, be aware of, and have a general understanding of the issues inherent to sexual harassment.
- Educating the staff
Managers should include the issue of sexual harassment in their induction or training programmes to the staff. Picasso once said, “Through education comes understanding.”
- Develop a clear management policy
Management must ensure that there is a clear definition of, and policy on sexual harassment to ensure that employees know what actions can be defined as sexual harassment.
When an employee complains that he or she is experiencing sexual harassment of any type, the employer has an obligation to investigate the allegations thoroughly. This investigation should be done in accordance with the company’s policies and procedure..
- Complaints and disciplinary procedure
There must be clear guidelines for reporting incidents. The employee can lodge a grievance against the offender before following a disciplinary procedure. The grievance procedure will allow the grievant to state his/her case to ensure that the company is in fact dealing with a sexual harassment matter. If the parties cannot reach an amicable solution during the grievance procedure, then disciplinary action would be taken against the offender. It is important that employees are aware of the correct processes and procedures to be followed.
Most businesses usually select, appoint and train appropriate staff members (usually HR) as ‘complaints officers,’ and they then have authority to institute the necessary disciplinary measures.
In larger companies, HR play an even bigger role. They are often trained to provide support and give advice to personnel who are sexually harassed or counsel offenders. If disciplinary action is going to be followed, both the victim and perpetrator must be given the necessary information to enable them to prepare for any proceedings outlined by the National Code of Good Practice on Sexual Harassment.
As an employer, dealing with sexual harassment is not only important for the well-being of the person being harassed, but also for the company’s moral and reputation.
The Labour Counsel offers various services for employers to help with the issue of workplace sexual harassment. From employment guides, disciplinary action to policy development, we have got you covered.