Is the reach of the definition of workplace harassment adequately inclusive?
The prevalence of gender-based violence and workplace violence and harassment has led to some wondering whether there is adequate protection for employees in this regard.
The Code of Good Practice on the Prevention and Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the Workplace has an expansive definition of workplace violence, harassment and bullying and it also places the necessary obligations on employers to protect employees.
The code defines sexual harassment as any conduct that the person knows (or should know) is not welcome, offends the complainant or makes the complainant feel uncomfortable, and interferes with work.
This means that the:
Racial violence and harassment are considered forms of harassment as the conduct demeans, humiliates or creates a hostile or intimidating work environment for a complainant, e.g. abusive language and racist jokes/name-calling, negative stereotyping, offensive behaviour creating hostility, exclusion from workplace interaction and/or marginalisation and threatening behaviour.
A hostile work environment is also considered a specific form of harassment. This is where the behaviour by a manager, persons in authority or co-worker whose actions, communication or behaviour make the work environment uncomfortable, or doing one’s job impossible.
Acts of harassment may include, but are not limited to:
Although legislation focuses on the relationship between employer and employee, employees are not the only possible victims of sexual harassment in the working environment. The victim and perpetrator of the sexual harassment do not have to be co-workers, but include persons such as:
It is reassuring that in the handling of workplace violence and harassment:
Legislation not only defines harassment, but it also requires employers to take active steps to mitigate sexual harassment in the workplace through implementation of a sexual harassment policy as well as other measures to mitigate sexual harassment in the workplace, such as:
In light of the above, it is clear that the reach of the definition of workplace violence and harassment is widely inclusive and that employers are obligated to put in place the necessary measures to safeguard employees and address all aspects of workplace violence and harassment.
It is equally important for employees to be aware of the workplace policies and measures at their disposal and when in doubt, ask and obtain the necessary guidance. Remember, MISA is only a phone call away!