With the #MeToo movement gaining traction, South African companies are putting more focus on inappropriate conduct in the workplace.
While the media has reported on a number of obvious ways in which sexual harassment has occurred, the more subtle forms of harassment are equally problematic, says Bradley Workman-Davies, a director at Werksmans Attorneys.
Employers, in particular, should be aware that a broad range of conduct on the part of their employees could expose them to internal issues, and possible legal claims, he said.
“The Employment Equity Act prohibits sexual harassment as a form of unfair discrimination and allows victims broad rights to approach a court and seek relief – in this case unlimited monetary relief.
“The Employment Equity Act also provides guidelines (by way of a Code of Good Practice) as to what may constitute sexual harassment.”
According to Workman-Davies, the Code of Good Practice recognises that sexual harassment takes place when an employee is exposed to:
- Sexual advances;
- Comments with sexual overtones;
- Sex-related jokes or insults;
- Graphic comments about a person’s body made in their presence or to them;
- Inappropriate enquiries about a person’s sex life;
- Whistling of a sexual nature;
- A strip search (where required for security measures) but which is conducted by or in the presence of the opposite sex.
“What is notable, is that reference to gender pronouns was deliberately kept neutral in presenting the legal position,” said Workman-Davies.
“Men, as well as women, may be the victim of sexual harassment. Men should realise that they are equally protected by the laws and that their employer owes them an equal duty of care.”