What Should Be Done About Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

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Unfortunately, sexual harassment continues to be an issue in the workplace, with many victims too nervous to report it because it is not always appropriately dealt with. It is important for both employees and organisations to know their rights and obligations when it comes to sexual harassment at work. 


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While sexual harassment continues to be a common occurrence in the workplace, it is unfortunately also an issue that is not often addressed. Although both men and women can experience sexual harassment in the work environment, it is commonly more women that fall victim to it.

Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions, says the fact that it often remains unreported means that organisations aren’t able to deal with it effectively, and risk not only reputational damage but also the loss of valuable talent.

The reality is that due to its sensitive nature, employees are too embarrassed, or in some cases, too scared to report instances of sexual harassment. A common scenario is an employee in a senior position sexually harassing a more junior staff member who then often feels they may lose their job if they report it.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited under the labour laws of South Africa, and there are many recorded cases where individuals have been legally prosecuted after having been found guilty of sexually harassing a colleague.

The Labour Relations Act contains a Code of Good Practice on the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases in the Workplace that both defines and gives ways of dealing with it.

“According to the Code, sexual harassment comprises physical conduct, verbal conduct and in some instances non-verbal conduct where the victim is harassed online or via messages or images sent to their cell phone."

When it comes to behaviours that constitute sexual harassment, Vittee describes these as any kind of sexual behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable including:

  • Touching
  • Unwelcome sexual jokes
  • Unwanted questions about your sex life
  • Whistling
  • Rude gestures
  • Requests for sex
  • Staring at your body in an offensive way

In many instances perpetrators are dismissed, however Vittee says it depends very much on the route the victim opts to take when dealing with the harassment charge. Victims have the choice of dealing with the sexual harassment in an informal or formal way.

Informal action

  • Talking to the perpetrator and requesting them to stop the behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable.
  • If you are uncomfortable approaching the abuser, you can ask a colleague that you trust to accompany you or talk to them on your behalf. You can also bring it up to your manager.
  • Email the perpetrator and tell them that their behaviour makes you uncomfortable and ask them to stop.
  • Mention the things they do that make you uncomfortable. 
  • Remember to save a copy of any communication that takes place between yourself and the perpetrator.

Formal way

When an employee chooses to go the formal route, the organisation will need to follow the formal procedure contained in the Code. During this procedure, the victim needs to be told:

  • Who they should lodge their grievance to.
  • The timeframe in which the grievance will be dealt with.

Vitee concludes that organisations that want to prevent instances of sexual harassment, need to actively communicate the types of behaviours that constitute sexual harassment, as well as the recourse for victims and the consequences for perpetrators. Employees are often unaware that their behaviour is inappopriate and many careers and company reputations have been damaged as a result. 

Suggested Article:

Sexual Harassment

South African businesses must ensure they have a policy in place to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace and that this policy is effectively communicated and understood by all employees.


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