Voice of the Cape

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Sexual harassment in the workplace and what you should do about it

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With Tuesday marking the final day of 2019’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, very little is spoken about workplace relations and the topic of sexual harassment.

Erica Emdon, a director at Public Interest Practice that focuses broadly on human rights law, the rule of law and social justice, says sexual harassment has been largely ill-defined by the public and explained that it can encompass many different forms of interaction and communication.

Emdon explained that sexual harassment can occur in the form of verbal, internet or media-based harassment, physical harassment and a wide range of other forms of sexual behaviour. She says it doesn’t have to be continual harassment and could be a once-off incident that makes you feel uncomfortable – something as simple as a look or way in which a person looks at ones clothing or body could constitute sexual harassment.

“The most important part is that it’s unwelcomed and unwanted by the recipient. It’s behaviour that makes the person feel uncomfortable and is something they don’t want,” said Emdon.

Ensuring a safe working environment for all employees is the responsibility of all employers and sexual harassment cannot be ignored or unaccounted for, according to Emdon.

“In the workplace there should always be a policy that defines what sexual harassment is and explains what people can do if they feel they’ve been sexually harassed.

Policy must give choices and must place the decision in the hands of the complainant [as far as disciplinary procedures and recourse are concerned]… The company has a duty to create a safe environment for employees,” she said.

For those who have been, or wish to prepare for potential situations where they may be, sexually harassed, Emdon clarified that you “need to write a record of exactly what happened” so that later on you could have a strong evidential base you can use to put your case forward and isolate what happened. Whenever an incident occurs, the complainant is urged to make notes of the date, time, surroundings and what exactly happened.

Emdon even says that reporting an incident of sexual harassment to a colleague or friend who in turn reports the issue to management is permissible.

Women are urged to take cases of sexual harassment seriously and to empower themselves by standing up for their rights and against sexual harassment and abuse.

VOC


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