SUNDAY TIMES - How to prevent sexual harassment at work
Sunday Times Careers By Margaret Harris, 2017-05-14 00:00:00.0

How to prevent sexual harassment at work

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Sexual harassment can have a devastating effect on companies if it is not addressed properly. The unwanted behaviour can lead to absenteeism and even resignations.

Fatima Moosa and Mariella Noriega Del Valle, from the HR department at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, say sexual attention becomes sexual harassment if:

The behaviour is persistent, although a single incident can constitute sexual harassment;

The recipient has made it clear they dislike the behaviour; and/or

The perpetrator should have known that the behaviour is regarded as unacceptable.

A typical case of sexual harassment is if, for example, a senior employee touches a junior employee inappropriately, even though that attention is unwelcome. The employee may lodge a complaint - formally or informally. If it is informal, the parties will try to resolve the dispute. If formal, the employer would typically institute disciplinary proceedings.

However, most sexual harassment is not reported - and this is particularly true in times of financial hardship. Moosa and Noriega Del Valle say there is much research, including from Vanderbilt University economist Joni Hersch, showing that "during a time of very high and persistent unemployment, people are more fearful of leaving jobs and/or filing complaints of sexual harassment".

They have the following advice to companies:

Educate all employees and run an awareness campaign of what constitutes sexual harassment;

Have workplace counselling facilities for victims of sexual harassment; and

Build trust in your company's systems by creating a culture that won't tolerate sexual harassment. - Margaret Harris