What is Sexual Harassment?
In terms of the Code of Good Practice: Handling Sexual Harassment cases (Labour Relations Act), it defines Sexual Harassment as:
(1) Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. The unwanted nature of sexual harassment distinguishes it from behaviour that is welcome and mutual.
(2) Sexual attention becomes sexual harassment if:
→ The behaviour is persisted in, although a single incident of harassment can constitute sexual harassment; and/or
→ The recipient has made it clear that the behaviour is considered offensive; and/or
→ The perpetrator should have known that the behaviour is regarded as unacceptable.
The Courts have held that sexual harassment whether between members of the opposite sex or the same sex, is a serious matter requiring immediate attention of employers. Some examples of such conduct that may amount to sexual harassment are:
→ Physical contact;
→ Verbally, through suggestions, hints and comments with sexual undertones;
→ Sexual jokes;
→ Indecent exposure;
→ Unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects.
Something quite commonly found in the workplace is where a superior undertakes or attempts to influence the process of employment, promotion, training, discipline, salary increment or other benefits of an employee in exchange for sexual favours.
How should such a situation be handled?
The Code of Good Practice gives some guidelines that employers should follow.
Employers must treat all complaint of sexual harassment as serious and require further investigation.
When an employer receives a complaint, he/she must inform the complainant that he/she has the following options available:
(1) An informal procedure in which management will attempt to resolve the problem informally; or
(2) A formal procedure in which management institutes disciplinary action against the alleged offender.
Employers and employees must ensure that grievances about sexual harassment are investigated and handled in a manner that ensures that the identities of the persons involved are kept confidential. Should management decide on taking disciplinary action, the parties concerned must endeavour to ensure confidentiality in the disciplinary enquiry. Only appropriate members of management as well as the aggrieved person, representative, alleged perpetrator, witnesses and interpreter if required, must be present in the disciplinary enquiry.
It is important to remember that employers should create and maintain a working environment in which the dignity of employees is respected. It is advisable to have Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedure manual in place in order for all employees to be aware of the rules in the workplace and how such conduct would be dealt with.
Article by: Claire Turner
CEO Regional Manager: KwaZulu-Natal