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Prevent and manage workplace sexual harassment - before it's too late

by , 07 October 2013
A Johannesburg teacher has been arrested after sending his 16-year-old pupil a naked photograph of himself sitting in a bathtub and unwittingly engaging in a late night WhatsApp conversation with the boy's mother, Eye Witness News reports. Now, the boy's mother has reported the case to the media to highlight sexual harassment at her son's school. Don't take this risk in your company. Here's how to proactively prevent sexual harassment from taking place and how you should handle incidents of sexual harassment if they do occur.

According to the report, the boy's mother saw an image pop up on the screen of her son's cellphone. The woman decided to pretend to be her son and engaged the teacher in a WhatsApp discussion. During this time, the teacher sent several images believed to be child pornography and made sexual suggestions.

The boy's mother has since criticised Hyde Park High School for the manner in which it handled the matter. She says she reported the case to the school principal the next morning, but, it was eight days before the teacher was suspended. Don't take that risk.

It's crucial you deal with sexual harassment effectively in the workplace.

And the good news is that 'the 2005 Code of Good Practice on the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases deals extensively with preventing and managing workplace sexual harassment and gives you clear guidelines and direction on how to handle this sensitive subject,' says the Labour Law for Managers Loose Leaf Service.

Here's how to proactively prevent sexual harassment and how to handle incidents of sexual harassment

The best way to prevent and manage sexual harassment is to create and communicate a sexual harassment policy.

Not only does a policy create awareness, but it might also alleviate your liability in terms of the Employment Equity Act (EEA).

Remember Section 60 of the Act makes you liable for sexual harassment perpetrated by one employee on another employee if you fail to take steps to eliminate sexual harassment.

Alternatively, you can escape liability if you can show that you did all that was reasonably practicable to ensure that the employee would not commit sexual harassment while at work.

You must create and maintain a work environment in which the dignity of your employees is respected.

The Code also urges you to sustain a working climate in which complaints of sexual harassment are not ignored or trivialised or where victims don't fear reprisals.

To achieve a sexual harassment free working environment you must:

  • Adopt a statement of intent. For example, have a clear letter to all staff from top management that sexual harassment won't be tolerated.
  •  Make sure managers play a leading role in preventing sexual harassment.
  •  Adopt policies and procedures in relation to the treatment of sexual harassment cases.
  • Provide assistance to employees who are sexually harassed.
  • Put in place continuous training and sensitisation programmes. For instance, a drama group could, through simulation of different forms of harassment, stimulate discussion. Training could be provided for advisors, or a case update on recent decisions to create an awareness of the different forms of sexual harassment.

With these guidelines, you'll be sure to proactively prevent sexual harassment and handle incidents of sexual harassment so you can avoid the situation Hyde Park High School currently faces.

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