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Developing Sexual Harassment Policy II

In the last instalment, we started exploring consideration that should be included or contemplated in drafting a sexual harassment policy.

We stated that for a long-time, sexual harassment policies focused on managing and minimising risk. Often, the risk being managed is that of vicarious liability of the employer. We however have a different approach to drafting sexual harassment policies.  Our anchoring ideal on the sexual harassment policies we suggest is a survivor-based approach. It’s the most efficient method, which empowers survivors of sexual harassment, and strives to meet their individual needs. It also averts possible future incidences of sexual harassment.

In the initial piece, we explored the first three steps necessary in drafting the policy. The first step is to set the intention of the policy, and that it should be clearly articulated in the policy.

Secondly, the extent of the policy should be established. The policy should state who it protects, and who protects against. We also shared that the policy should clearly define the terms that are used. Specifically, we stated that sexual harassment should extend beyond just sexual acts. There are many behaviours which should be covered in sexual harassment, including words used. In this piece, we will explore the final considerations that should be made for the drafting sexual harassment policies.

Information on filing a complaint

The employer should ensure that the employees are aware of all the information that is required when a complaint is to be filed. The size and complexity of the company as well as the location of the company or institution will determine the number of complaint mechanisms that are available. This part of the policy should note the office with which complaints can be filed. This can be an internal designated official, or something similar to a hotline, which an external official, and alternatively, a third- party, often the ombudsman. The office of the ombudsman is often the office which administers complaints.

This part of the policy should also provide practical information, but more importantly, it should also encourage survivors to be vocal and to file complaints. It should explain why it is important and beneficial for the company at large. Other employees need to be protected from the harasser, and the company, or institution, has to prevent the recurrence of a sexual harassment incident. It is critical to remind employees that reporting something that seems minor is better than condoning bad behaviour.

Complaint procedure

In a previous piece, we established complaints procedures in general. Practically, in a policy, the responsibilities of the investigators, management and human resources departments should be clearly provided for. This part should adequately explain how allegations are treated. This includes processes that may be informal, formal, investigations as well as appeals.A step-by-step plan should be provided goes a long way in comforting survivors  as well as witnesses of sexual harassment cases, who may

be hesitant to speak out about incidents, because of uncertainty of procedures and processes.

As every incident is different and has its own unique attributes, the procedure cannot be too detailed. If it is detailed, it runs the risk of leaving out and excluding other incidents of harassment, which should otherwise not be left should therefore include enough information to ensure transparency and openness.

Employee rights

Employees of the company or institution, should, in this section of the policy, be reminded of their rights in the workplace. These could include the employee’s right to a workplace free from harassment, a survivor’s right to report inappropriate actions without fear of reprisal; a witness’ right to report inappropriate behaviour which they may have noticed, without fear of being victimised, and without fear of repercussions of any kind; the survivor’s right to an efficient investigation of their complaint, as well as it’s confidentiality; and finally the right to seek psychosocial support, or even physical health help in various ways.

Disciplinary action

This is the part of the policy which emphasises that the company or institution, takes sexual harassment very seriously, and responds to it, very strictly. It should be made clear that violations of the policy in any way, shall not be tolerated, and further that harassers shall be subjected to discipline which is commensurate to the harassment they inflict on survivors.

The disciplinary processes of the company or institution should be unequivocally stated. For example, it can be stated that a first-time harasser who makes inappropriate jokes shall be issued with a verbal warning. Second-time harassers shall be demoted or transferred. This reassures the survivor that they will be protected by their employer, and that they will not be made to leave their job, while the harasser continues to work and make a living.

Disciplinary process should be applied consistently and evenly throughout the institution. It should also be made clear that those who just stand by and watch the sexual harassment will also be held accountable, in a work place that protects its employees from sexual harassment.

The above are not necessarily a comprehensive list of what should be included in a sexual harassment policy. They are however, together with those explored in the previous piece, ways in which an employer can ascertain that they protect their employees.

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 inhouse 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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