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Avoid an Inverdale disaster! Commenting on an employee's looks CAN land you an ugly visit to the CCMA for verbal sexual harassment

by , 09 July 2013
The tennis world was aghast at announcer John Inverdale's comments on Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli's appearance on Saturday. But did you know that something as seemingly harmless as commenting on an employee's physical appearance could land you at the CCMA? Here's how you can avoid a verbal sexual harassment drama in your business...

"I just wonder if her dad [said to her] 'listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova, you're never going to be 5ft 11, you're never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that.'

Those words have landed sports announcer John Inverdale in hot water.

Not only did his management force him to write a letter of apology to Marion Bartoli, but the tennis-loving public has called for his discipline or dismissal, reports BBC News.

A graphic comment about an employee's appearance is verbal sexual harassment

When sexual harassment comes up, you probably think of inappropriate touching, crude emails and unwelcome advances in the workplace.  But that' not all it entails.

Verbal sexual harassment can take the form of unwelcome remarks about an employee's body too. And it's not the only one. The Practical Guide to Human Resource Management lists the following as forms of verbal sexual harassment too:
  • Unwelcome innuendos
  • Suggestions and hints of a sexual nature
  • Verbal sexual advances, whether graphic or subtle
  • Comments with sexual overtones
  • Sex-related jokes
  • Sex-related insults
  • Inappropriate questions about a person's sex life
  • Whistling or cat-calling

How to avoid a visit to the CCMA for verbal sexual harassment

Here are four action steps you can take to deal with verbal sexual harassment before it puts your entire business at risk:
  1. Have a clearly defined sexual harassment policy in place. Make sure the document is easy to read as well as legally binding.
  2. Consider having some sexual harassment training for your employees.
  3. Ensure that your staff can easily approach you as a manager or your HR staff with even small issues. Those 'not a big deal' situations tend to escalate if they're not nipped in the bud.
  4. Take sexual harassment accusations seriously and follow the sexual harassment policy's procedures to the letter. Dealing with problems internally will ensure that employees won't feel the need to go to the CCMA.

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