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Wits dismisses two employees for sexual harassment - here's what to do when you receive a complaint of sexual harassment from your employee

by , 01 August 2013
The University of the Witwatersrand has dismissed two employees who've been found guilty of sexual harassment. Both staff members were found to be in breach of the university's Sexual Harassment Policy, Relationship Guidelines and the university's Code of Conduct. The hearings were chaired by independent senior counsel and the outcomes were handed to the university yesterday, Sabcnews reported. While the university has publicly apologised to students who were harassed, the matter has raised questions about sexual harassment in the workplace. Read on to find out what you must do when you receive a complaint of sexual harassment in your workplace.

It's crucial you deal with sexual harassment complaints decisively.

When your employees bring harassment to your attention, you must take steps to eliminate the harassment 'immediately'.

According to the Labour Law for Managers Loose Leaf Service, 'immediately' is defined in the Employment Equity Act (EEA) as 'soon as is reasonably possible in the circumstances and without undue delay taking into account all the circumstances.'

Here's what you must do to ensure you're not in breach of the EE Act.

Follow these six steps as soon as your employee brings a complaint of sexual harassment to your attention

Step #1

Advise the victim (employee) on the available procedures, be they formal or informal.

You should give the complainant a choice between an informal or formal procedure and you should generally honour this choice (unless there would be risk of further harm if you don't follow a formal procedure). Your sexual harassment policy must explain each of these procedures in detail.

An informal procedure involves either the complainant or an appropriate third party (without disclosing the identity of the complainant if that's what s/he wants) approaching the perpetrator to explain the conduct is unwelcome and that s/he should stop.

And a formal procedure (that'll culminate in a disciplinary inquiry) can be followed with or without first following an informal procedure.

Remember, if your employee decides not to follow a formal procedure, you should still assess the risk to other employees in your workplace if formal steps haven't been taken against the perpetrator.

Basically, you may need to take formal steps even if that's not what the victim wants.

If you fail to take disciplinary action against the alleged perpetrator, your employee who has been harassed would have a right to bring a dispute against you based on unfair conduct, discrimination or constructive dismissal.


Offer advice, assistance (which could include special sick leave) and counselling to the victim.


Investigate the allegation of sexual harassment thoroughly (in doing this you must obtain the versions of both the harassed employee and the alleged harasser, as well as any other evidence or testimony which may be of assistance in arriving at the true state of affairs).

You may need to remove the complainant from working with the alleged sexual harasser.


Follow the chosen or appropriate procedure (informal or formal).


Keep the victim informed and involved and continually assess the need for counselling or other assistance.


Communicate the outcome of your investigation to the victim and make sure there are no outstanding issues s/he needs to have resolved. For example, it might be necessary to allow for ongoing counselling for a period of time in severe cases.

Following these steps will ensure you deal with a sexual harassment complaint urgently, with sensitivity and in a fair manner.

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