Strengthening Reporting Systems In The Workplace To Address Sexual Harassment
Date: 05 May 2023
By Nomthandazo Sithole
Section 6 (3) of the Employment Equity Act, as amended, provides that harassment of an employee is a form of discrimination and is prohibited on anyone, or a combination of grounds of unfair discrimination. Despite this increased awareness, developments in law and policies in place against sexual harassment in the workplace, the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Office of the Commission for Gender Equality (“KZN Office”), has noted an increase in allegations of sexual harassment against public officials. Our courts have described sexual harassment as, at its core, concerned with the exercise of power and reflects the power relations that exist both in society generally and specifically within a particular workplace. In one such case observed by the KZN Office, the alleged perpetrator who is a municipal councillor allegedly guarantees job security to job seekers in return for sexual favours. Interestingly, the affected women opted not to report the matters internally at the workplace and reported such matters to the media and South African Police service. The Commission has observed that employees often opt not to report matters internally in the workplace. This ought to challenge employers to strengthen reporting mechanisms in the workplace and further impose harsh sanctions for those found guilty of sexual harassment cases in the workplace. By so doing, the employer would be discharging their duty to create a safe working environment, and this is likely to persuade employees to lodge grievance internally and allow the employer to address them.
Our courts have held that sexual harassment is, “heinous and horrendous conduct since it undermines the dignity of women and the values enshrined in our Constitution.” Employers should strive to create a safe working environment to all employees by expeditiously attending to such cases without fear, favour or prejudice. The court expressed in Campbell Scientific Africa (Pty) Ltd v Simmers, that , the sanction serves an important purpose in that it “sends out an unequivocal message that employees who perpetrate sexual harassment do so at their peril and should more often than not expect to face the harshest penalty”.
Nomthandazo Sithole is a Legal Officer at the CGE