Workplace: Breaking the silence on s****l h****sment

Saturday, August 24th, 2019 00:00 | By
Sexual harassment at workplace. Photo/Courtesy

Samson Osero

The mention of the phrase “sexual harassment” at the workplace elicits varied perceptions depending on the existing organisational culture.

Organisations in a perpetual denial mode of the offence claim its absence on the ground of unreported cases. Others have since eaten humble pie and accepted its prevalence and have put in place relevant handling mechanisms.

National and institutional prevalence rate of workplace sexual harassment cases is unavailable in a country where two out three women have experienced the annoyance particularly in public transport.

Organisations have not developed anonymous survey tools to capture, analyse and interpret relevant data for informed decision making. Here are challenges that reported sexual harassment cases pose and how to handle them:

Level of Awareness

Sexual harassment occurs in so many forms that attempt to list them would not be exhaustive. It consists of verbal, written, signs and body-contact that negatively affects the other gender at the workplace.

Some victims of sexual harassment face a dilemma in drawing the line between unwelcome sexual behaviour and the “normal” opposite gender flirtations.

The offenders take advantage of grey areas of unacceptable sexual conduct to the detriment of its recipients. More confusion arises when social perceptions of different communities come into play on the matter.

To sensitise employees on the vice, progressive organisations have mounted sexual harassment awareness programmes for all staff levels.

Policy Implementation

Although employers have detailed policies and procedures on sexual harassment, they face implementation hiccups in a non-supportive work environment. If accusing fingers are pointed towards the top management, the policy document gathers dust in the shelves. Handling reported cases with fairness and firmness would minimise sexual harassment in organisations.

Poor investigations

Organisation may have clear sexual harassment complaints procedures, but they fail on the spot when reporting is not done in confidence.

Doubts have sometimes been cast on those assigned the responsibility to undertake due investigations. Reported cases are susceptible to being thrown out by an internally constituted committee which is not independent.

To avoid mistrust and suspicion in dealing with sexual harassment cases, a firm is expected to appoint qualified investigators; set up a competent committee and establish appeals avenues.

Tangible Evidence

When sexual harassment involves two parties in the absence of a witness or tangible evidence, either party may be disadvantaged. Cases are on record in which culprits destroyed evidence rendering the claims defective.

Victims stand a high chance of winning the cases by providing unassailable evidence such as CCTV recordings and saved messages which could even be adduced in a court of law.

Management’s Goodwill

For a sensitive matter such as sexual harassment, the goodwill of top management will make a difference in minimising its occurrence. When employees know of management’s pursuit of a zero tolerance on the nuisance, those concerned are likely to reform their behaviour.

Besides ensuring that allegations are investigated and dealt with without delay, the management should impose appropriate disciplinary measures on the offenders and ensure that post-case retaliatory overtures are firmly dealt with. The writer is human resources development consultant, [email protected]

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