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HR 101 – Sexual Harassment – Be Warned

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Please note that this pertains to South African Labour Regulations and Best Practice requirements.

When we think about ‘Sexual Harassment’ most of us think about the office letch who tries to ‘cop a feel’ at every opportunity at the annual Christmas party or any office function for that matter.

Truth be told, it’s a lot more than that and it covers a vast array of incidents that most of us would never even think about.

Having a look at the code of conduct I came across some startling revelations – these are (but not limited to):

Sexual Harassment charges can be brought about by the unwanted (unwelcome and not mutual) conduct of a sexual nature of Employers, Managers, Supervisors, Employees, Job Applicants, Clients, Suppliers, Contractors and in fact anyone who has dealings with a business. Here’s the thing to keep in mind if you are the Employer – an employee has the constitutional right to work in a safe environment, so you are not just responsible for your behaviour and that of your staff, but also of all the above type people who may be visiting your offices at some point or another. How scary is that?

The Code of Conduct also states that Sexual Harassment is not confined to persistent behaviour but can also be a single incident. So it is not only about the Supervisor who is constantly pinching the rear ends of the female staff but it could be the sandwich delivery chap who winks at the receptionist as he delivers the boss’s sandwich.

Sexual Harassment is also not only of a physical nature but it can also be verbal. Some of the examples as quoted in the Code of Conduct are listed (but not limited to) below:

1. Physical conduct.
– this pertains to any unwelcome physical contact from someone simply touching you to the more serious charges of sexual assault and rape and it can and often does include a ‘strip’ search by or in the presence of someone of the opposite sex.

2. Verbal Conduct.
– This pertains to things like unwelcome innuendoes or suggestions and hints. What one person may consider innocent flirtation may be perceived by another as a sexual advance.
– Comments with sexual overtones or sex related jokes, or insults or even graphic comments about a person’s body made in their presence or even directed towards a person, would also fall into this category.
– Inappropriate enquiries and questions about a persons sex life, their sexual orientation or even whistling at a person or a group of persons can (and does) fall into this category.

3. Non-verbal Conduct
– gestures (remember the often used zap sign that we are all so fond of using), indecent exposure (the office flasher and that includes the ‘wardrobe malfunction’ in the form of an exposed boob) and the unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects (be careful who you send porn to and who reads the jokes in your e-mails) falls into this category.

4. Quid Pro Quo Harassment
– This is when the boss or supervisor or member of management or even a co-employee tries to influence the process of employment. This is when your increase or promotion or your access to training, the manner in which or when discipline takes place or even your dismissal, or your job application or any employee benefits hang or is dependant upon sexual favours.

5. Sexual Favouritism
– this, of course is when the boss (or a person in authority) rewards only those who respond to his or her sexual advances and the rest of the staff are not rewarded at all.

The bottom line is that it is the responsibility of employers to ensure that they create and maintain a working environment in which the dignity of their employees is respected.