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Developing A Sexual Harassment Policy

LESEGO NSWAHU NCHUNGA
Having explored the various components of sexual harassment over the last few weeks, and having made the point in the first piece that it is critical for each organisation or institution to develop a sexual harassment policy, to ensure the protection of their employees, as well as itself, it is vital to make a few suggestions of what to include in a sexual harassment policy.

This piece therefore gives a few suggestions of factors that should necessarily be included in a sexual harassment policy, emphasising that they may not be an exhaustive list, but that in closing this chapter on sexual harassment, there are ways of getting it right. The following suggestions are just that, suggestions.

For a long time, sexual harassment policies focused on managing or trying to minimise risk, as well as ensuring legal protection. The pivotal goal was to avert vicarious liability of a company, from sexual harassment suits. The anchoring idea of this piece, however, is that sexual harassment policies should take a survivor-centred approach, and  therefore embody the principles of respect, decency and transparency in a work environment.

The intention of the policy

This section is almost an echoing of the institution or organisation’s goals and commitments to their employers. It reinforces a company’s pledge to ensure that a work environment is not only conducive for the employees, but specifically that it will be safe for them, ensuring that it is specifically stated that there will be zero-tolerance to sexual harassment in the said work environment. It should be clear to all what the specific approach that will be taken to fulfilling the goals set out in this part is. It should also be explained why is considered important by the institution, to develop such a policy.

Extent of the policy

It is important to categorical state who the policy includes and excludes. In many work environments, employees engage with other persons who are not necessarily employees of the company. These engagements are necessarily because of the employment of the employees.

They would therefore not be exposed to such risks were it not for the work environment. Alternatively, many people who work with the company, as suppliers or consultants who may be exposed to sexual harassment, as a result of their work with the institution.

The policy has to therefore be clear about the extent of their compliance with the policy. This clearly communicates the level of protection and responsibility that an institution has. It is not to say that where it is not unequivocally stated, there would be no protection. It is rather an intentional stating of the scope by the organisation, to ensure it’s commitment.

The extent goes beyond delineating people covered by or included in the sexual harassment policy. It should also inform the other places where sexual harassment can take place. Critical to this point is the understanding that the venue

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is not necessarily what is important, but rather the relationship that enables the sexual harassment. It can therefore take place outside of working hours and in spaces that are not necessarily a work environment- or even in a different country. What should be clear is that the parties involved came into the relationship as a result of the work they do.

Definitions and examples

There is also need to clearly define the terms that will be used in the policy. Particularly, the institution should clearly articulate what it’s working definition of sexual harassment is, and the acts that it covers. It should be made clear here that, with a zero-tolerance of sexual harassment, the definition should expand, not only to its formal definition, but also give examples of poor behaviour. It must be pointed out that  sexual harassment is quite subjective. The recipient’s interpretation of an event is therefore prioritised over the intentions of the accused harasser. Some behaviour that should be constituted in sexual harassment are sexual pranks and teasing, verbal abuse of a sexual nature, physical touching of a sexual nature, the gifting of sexually suggestive gifts, or ‘compliments, making sexually suggestive gestures, or posting of sexually suggestive pictures

Prioritised is also how the harasser’s behaviour affects, or affected the survivor. In many instances, sexual harassment, like most other forms of trauma, affects an individual’s mental health.

In many other instances it results in the survivor resigning from the place of employment because of the lack of care employed in their case. It is important that these are properly addressed in the policy, and that priority is accorded to the survivor.

Of course there are other considerations that should be taken in crafting sexual harassment policies. To start with however, the above gives guidance, specifically on initial conceptualisation.

It is critical that persons who would otherwise be vulnerable, understand that they are safe and protected in their work environment. This not only builds trust but goes a long way to ensuring a safe society for all. 

This article was written in collaboration with Oratile Gaopotlake. Oratile has considerable experience in developing anti-harassment policies. She also has been engaged to review existing internal policies according to client’s brief and international best practice. In recent times she has conducted in house corporate investigations on sexual harassment reported incidents and presented recommendations accordingly. She has a great interest in the work and endeavours to make work spaces safe and comfortable for all.



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