Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

In the wake of the #AmINext movement as response to the rape and murder of a 19-year-old UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana, the state of gender-based violence in this country has been on everyone’s mind! 

We believe that gender-based violence (GBV) is an issue that requires a systemic transformation, one which we believe can be influenced by a well considered, proactive approach towards GBV in the workplace. But before we look at steps to achieve this, let’s define exactly what GBV is.

What is Gender-Based Violence? 

GBV is a violation of fundamental human rights. It is a manifestation of gender-based discrimination and unequal power relations between men and women. 

GBV in the workplace includes, but is not limited to: Sexual violence in all of its forms, including sexual harassment as it is legally defined, as well as stalking behaviors, assault and rape, trafficking, coercion, and restrictions on freedom of movement that occur while at work or on the way to and from work. 

Gender-Based Violence in the Workplace – The Legal Side

The Code of Good Practice on the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases in the Workplace, published in terms of the Employment Equity Act, aims to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace by outlining procedures to deal with and prevent it. There are certain obligations on the employer when sexual harassment has been brought to its attention. These include:

  • consulting all relevant parties;
  • taking the necessary steps to address the complaint;
  • taking the necessary steps to eliminate the sexual harassment;
  • advising the complainant of the procedures available to deal with the sexual harassment;
  • offering the complainant confidential advice, assistance or counselling;
  • considering granting additional sick leave if the complainant requires trauma counselling and has exhausted his or her sick leave as a result of the trauma; and
  • ensuring that grievances about sexual harassment are handled so as to keep the identities of the people involved confidential.

An employer that does not address allegations of sexual harassment or violence in the workplace may be deemed to have contravened the Employment Equity Act (EEA) and can face serious legal consequences. 

What Can You do to Help End GBV in the Workplace? 

Knowing your rights within the workplace is an important step to ensuring that gender-based violence in the workplace is properly dealt with. 

You have the right to: 

  1. A workplace that is free from sexual harassment.
  2. Be treated with dignity and respect at work.
  3. Be treated equally, and not to be discriminated against because of race, gender and your HIV status.
  4. To report sexual harassment without fear of victimisation (ill-treatment).
  5. Have your complaint treated seriously and confidentially.

If you would like expert advice in formulating and implementing policies, procedures and practices that effectively protect your employees from gender-based violence, please contact us.