Harassment happens in many forms but one of the most pervasive methods used to harass people is through technology and social media platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp. Speaking to BusinessTech, Phetheni Nkuna, director at law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, said that the Department of Employment and Labour has published a draft code of good practice on the prevention and elimination of violence and harassment in the workplace.
This move comes as South African companies are increasingly dealing with inappropriate behaviour and/or messages sent between employees. According to Nkuna, some of the most common examples of cyber sexual harassment in the workplace that could get you fired include:
- Repeatedly texting a co-worker to ask them out
- Making fun of a person (body shaming) in a group email or WhatsApp group chat
- Posting or sending a sexually offensive meme to a workplace collaboration app (Slack, Google Hangouts), WhatsApp, Teams, Zoom or email
- Posting or sending a lewd and/or sexually offensive GIF
- Sharing personally identifying information about someone, either to embarrass/humiliate them, or cause them to fear for their safety, with sexual undertones
In August, Labour minister Thulas Nxesi published the draft code of good practice on the prevention and elimination of violence and harassment in the workplace. While the policy is still being considered and is up for public comment, Nkuna told BusinessTech that the code plans to introduce further regulations around sexual harassment in the workplace.
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The proposed draft will implement broadened regulations to protect workers and other persons in the world of work irrespective of their contractual status and will also reportedly hold employers liable for not correctly intervening and taking action on sexual harassment complaints.
The new draft will apply to all sectors, whether private or public, both in the formal and informal economy, and whether in urban and rural areas.
The proposed policy defines ‘sexual violence and harassment’ as directly or indirectly engaging in conduct that the perpetrator knows or should know is not welcome, offensive or threatening to the complainant. These actions include:
- Following, watching, pursuing, or accosting the complainant or a related person to the complainant. Loitering outside of or near the building or place where the complainant or a related person resides, works, carries on business, studies, or happens to be
- Unwelcome sexual attention, advances or proposals from a person who knows or should know that such attention is unwelcome
- Unwelcome explicit or implicit behaviour, suggestions, messages, advances, attention, proposals or remarks of a sexual nature that have the effect of offending, intimidating or humiliating the complainant or a related person
- Implied or expressed threat of reprisal or actual reprisal for refusal to comply with a sexually-oriented request, advance, attention, or proposals.
The draft code also notes that sexual attention becomes sexual violence and harassment when:
- The behaviour is persistent, although a single incident of harassment can constitute sexual harassment
- The recipient has made it clear that the behaviour is considered offensive
- The perpetrator knows or should know that the behaviour is regarded as unacceptable