Thanks to the glorious miracle of technology, several companies and millions of people have been able to weather the pandemic. However, there is sadly a cynical element emanating from the increased connectivity being, sexual harassment.
Addressing this awkward challenge is Phethani Nkuna, Director at the law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, who explains the most common forms of harassment 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.
There is also quid pro quo sexual harassment – sex for jobs or some other benefit.
However, it is essential to point out that this form of harassment does not only affect women. Looking at the statistics, Nkuna points out that 47% of men have claimed unwanted advance from a colleague. In the case of men, stats show that 20% of unwanted advances comes from subordinates.
Such is the seriousness around sexual harassment, Nkuna claims there are several pieces of legislation focusing on the crime—including section 6 of the Employment Equity Act, Labour Relations Act, as well as the Criminal Law Amendment Act.
Consequently, Nkuna clarifies if a person finds themselves being harassed, they may pursue a path offered by the employers, as well as pursue charges against the perpetrator via the courts.
Henceforth, it is instrumental that employers take all reasonable and practical steps to ensure that employees do not commit any act of sexual harassment. “An employer has a duty to provide a safe and healthy working environment,” he says.
With cyber sexual harassment becoming a cause of concern, Labour minister Thulas Nxesi recently published a draft code of good practice on the prevention and elimination of violence and harassment in the workplace. The draft policy, which falls under the Employment Equity Act, covers several areas of violence and harassment in the workplace, including cyberbullying.
When defining cyberbullying, the policy states:
“Cyberbullying refers to the inappropriate use of technology, expression of psychological and sexual violence and harassment through email, text, cartoons, memes, and web posts on any other form of online communication or electronic technology which has the same effect as conventional bullying.”
It is also necessary to highlight; the policy also describes online violence. This form of technological harassment includes any act of violence and harassment which is committed, assisted or aggravated in part or fully by the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), such as mobile phones and smartphones, the internet, social media platforms or email.
While it is of the utmost importance for employers to ensure employees are not subject to any form of sexual harassment, there will be consequences if the said employer does not take the necessary steps.
Nkuna elaborates, “An employee may sue an employer as a result of allegations that the employer did not deal with sexual harassment complaints in a proper fashion.”
As we find ourselves in a new era of working, the importance of combatting sexual harassment remains just as significant.
With this in mind, be wary of the nature of the messages you share with colleagues, instead leave those dodgy GIFs and videos for the groups you and your mates have created.
Author: Quinton Boucher
Edited: Calvin Swemmer