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Dealing with workplace sexual harassment

…harassment attracts 3 years in jail under Lagos laws

Going by how sexual harassment is entrenched in the culture of workplaces, it suggests the invasive trend has evolved into a growing global epidemic, sponsored by what many advocates of feminism describe as sexist, entitled or misogynist orientation.

Read More :  Gender inequality and sexual harassment in the workplace

From palm scratching to frolicking with earlobes, waist grabbing or tickling, playing with hair and neck or humping of chairs from behind, many women are caught in the trap of men who don’t draw lines in co-workers’ relationship. It could get worse where there is power imbalance or superiority of influence between a harasser and the victim.

 More often than not, objecting in the strongest possible terms is hardly seen as an option from fear of losing promotion, employment or suffering disfavour in the discharge of duties. Women fear that their lone voices will not be taken seriously, while they are simply tagged ‘overreacting or problematic employee’.

But that’s exactly how to begin a protest. The cardinal rule for dealing with unwelcome behaviour is to discourage it at an early stage, making it clear to the offender that his or her behaviour is unwelcome, offensive and should immediately cease, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) advises in a guideline document on ‘Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: How to Recognise it; How to Deal with it’. As an employee, you do not necessarily have to put up with either subtle or harsh shades of harassment from intimidating colleagues or superiors.

In the event that the offensive behaviour does not cease after it has been discouraged or if the aggrieved staff member is not comfortable in handling the situation on his or her own, the following informal and formal means of resolving the problem are available.

The Informal Approach

The informal approach is intended to resolve a complaint of sexual harassment through mediation between the parties involved and by providing advice and counsel on a strictly confidential basis.

Aggrieved staff members may seek advice and help from a Personnel Office or from a senior staff member who can advise them and who may be able to discuss the matter discreetly with them and the offender with a view to achieving an informal resolution of the problem.

When posted at the headquarters of an organisation, staff members may approach a senior member of their division or office.

The Formal Approach

Where informal means fail to curb harassment, cases may be pursued through more formal channels. A complaint could be lodged on a confidential basis to the human resource management department of an organisation, especially one with a policy on gender respect.

The complaint should describe the specific offensive act or acts, the time, location and circumstances under which they took place and any other information relevant to the case. The complaint should also specify whether and in which circumstances the staff member made it clear to the alleged offender that his or her behaviour was unwelcome. The complaint should identify the alleged offender as well as any witness to the act or anyone else to whom the incident might have been mentioned. The complaint should be signed and dated by the staff member.

For HR, on the basis of the information received, the chief officer should review the matter.  An investigation panel can be comprised of three staff members appointed by the director after consultation with staff representatives. The Panel will conduct the investigation and fact-find, which normally should include interviews with the complainant, the alleged offender, any witnesses and others who could be able to provide relevant information. It will assess the reliability of the source or sources of information and the evidence submitted.

Following the establishment of guilt, disciplinary proceedings should be initiated in accordance with the organisation policy provision and recommendations on dealing with sexual harassment.

But where an organisation lacks the structure of gender policy, an aggrieved staff can explore options of justice outside the office through the Lagos state’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DVSRT), which has a collection of professional service providers who can help victims get justice. A staff can also engage human rights organisations on the issue. In the event of an emergency, the organisation can be reached via a toll-free line 112 or 08137960048. Complaints can equally be addressed to info@dsvrtlagos.org.

Lagos State Criminal Public Law

Under the Lagos State Criminal Law, section 262, subsection one, any person who sexually harasses another is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years.

Any person who causes another to engage in a sexual activity without that other person’s consent is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for five years.

Where the sexual activity caused involved sexual penetration, the offender is guilty of a felony and liable to imprisonment for life.

What actions count as sexual harassment?

The conversation on what counts as harassment actions is still largely indistinct to many harassers. Whether a man or a woman, you would be harassing a fellow at work if you initiate physical contact, make remarks with sexual connotations, make sexual demands whether directly or indirectly. These are just a few of the several signs of harassment.

Conducts as this, according to the United Nations could be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem. It is discriminatory when the aggrieved has reasonable ground to believe that his or her objection would disadvantage him or her in connection with employment issues including recruitment or promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment.

The European Commission defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, or other conduct based on sex, affecting the dignity of women and men at work.

On the other hand, the workplace is any department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office, branch or unit which is established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government or the local authority of a company, a corporation or a co-operative society.

In its measure of assistance and protection of staff, for instance, the UN Population Fund ensures members are protected from retaliation for reporting allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse or sexual harassment in good faith. Retaliation is prohibited and, if established, constitutes misconduct that can be sanctioned.

Catharine MacKinnon, a professor, speaking to the UN News about the #MeToo movement against male exploitation in the United States warned that to achieve a true culture of respect, “women need to be seen beyond objects for sexual use”.

This means ridding the workplace environment workplace of sexual harassment is not a burden to be placed entirely of the female gender. All hands must be on deck, including the harassers who are often men and organisation prevent the occurrence of harassment.

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