Companies are by law, responsible for providing a harassment-free work environment even if employees are working remotely. Harassment can take many forms such as sexual, physical, verbal, or non-verbal (via video conferencing, social media, email, SMS, WhatsApp). Every employee has the right to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace, and employees do not have to tolerate harassment from anyone.
Harassment constitutes unfair discrimination (Employment Equity Act), and it is a serious offence. It is possible for the harassed employee, or non-employee (customer, vendor) to lodge a grievance, and to obtain a protection order against the employer or the colleague. They may also simultaneously press criminal or civil charges. Productivity within the workplace may also be negatively impacted, and it is for this reason that employers need to address the situation with urgency.
Some tips for creating a harassment-free workplace include:
- Establish and publish a policy. Create a climate of zero tolerance.
- Ensure that all employees and managers are trained and understand the policy, and the procedures to follow in the event of a complaint being lodged.
- Ensure that all employees understand the severe consequences if found guilty of such an offence.
- Investigate the claims immediately.
- Conduct a disciplinary enquiry.
- Ensure confidentiality and fairness throughout the process.
- Ensure that the right sanction has been issued for the transgression.
- Ensure consistency in the application of the policy, procedures, and practice.
- Provide emotional support to the complainant.