HARASSMENT AT WORK PLACE
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.Harassment in the workplace can have a profound effect on an individual or group of individuals and in turn on the organizations
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By MAHWISH RIAZ
Sep 13 - 19, 2004
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Sexual harassment at the work place is a form of discrimination that violates the fundamental rights of the worker and affects not only the employee but also the employer and society as a whole. It is also a form of violence against women. Most working women, at some time or the other, face this kind of violence from their colleagues, bosses or employers. Since this sort of violence takes place at work places, it qualifies to be dealt with as a HR, labour and management issue. Actually issue of harassment is not really about gender, as the victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man; it is about power, the abuse of power.

The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) formed in 1979 clearly defines sexual harassment at work place as an "unwelcome sexually determined behaviour as physical contacts and advances, sexually coloured remarks showing pornographic material and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem. It is discriminatory when the woman has reasonable grounds to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with employment, including recruitment or promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment."

The equality in employment can be seriously impaired when women are subject to gender specific violence, such as sexual harassment at the work place. Article-11 of CEDAW states that all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment to ensure on the basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular.

(a) The right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings; and

(f). The right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions including the safeguarding of function of reproduction.

Despite clear direction and recommendations under CEDAW, ILO Conventions and other international and national laws, women are subjected to sexual harassment or victimization at work places because of the gender-based discrimination not only at personal but organizational level.

CONSTITUTIONAL AND LEGAL FRAMEWORK OF PAKISTAN

The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 provides certain safe guards that cover women's equality in general and to some extent indirectly the issue of women's harassment. Articles 14, 17, 18 and 19 deal with dignity of person and privacy of home, freedom of association, speech, trade and profession to all citizens, Articles 25 and 26 speak of equality of citizens before law and non-discrimination of either sexes and their access to public places. However, more specifically Article 27 says "no citizen otherwise qualified for appointment in the service of Pakistan shall be discriminated against".

Similarly, the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) covers sexual harassment but very little is known about it. It does not specifically deal with sexual harassment at work place. In general, the PPC declares any sort of harassment as a crime.

Section 509 of PPC says: "Whoever intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object intending that such a word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture, or exhibits any object shall be seen by such a woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such a woman, shall be punished with a simple imprisonment which may extend up to one year or with fine or with both".

Pakistan is a signatory to international conventions including CEDAW, The Convention on the rights of Child (CRC), ILO Convention 182 and others. Though Pakistan is signatory to the CEDAW, yet it has to be incorporated into our legal and constitutional framework to end discrimination against women.

WHAT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT?

CEDAW clearly defines sexual harassment at work place as an "unwelcome sexually determined behaviour as physical contacts and advances, sexually coloured remarks showing pornographic material and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem. It is discriminatory when the woman has reasonable grounds to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with employment, including recruitment or promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment."

TYPES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT

1. QUID PRO QUO

"Quid Pro Quo," a Latin phrase meaning "something for something". This type of sexual harassment occurs when a job benefit (e.g., a promotion) is directly linked to the acceptance of a sexual behavior or demand by someone who has more authority, such as a supervisor.

2. HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT

This type of sexual harassment occurs when conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, or is unreasonably interfering with a person's ability to do their work. The offensive conduct must be unwelcome and it must be severe or pervasive.

WHEN IS CONDUCT UNWELCOME OR HARASSING?

Unwelcome sexual advances (either verbal or physical), requests for favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

* Submission to such conduct is either an explicit or implicit term or condition of employment (e.g., promotion, training, timekeeping or overtime assignments)

 

 

* Submission to or rejection of the conduct is used as a basis for making employment decisions (hiring, promotion, termination)

* The conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment

Examples of Conduct or Behaviors that Constitute Sexual Harassment

1. PHYSICAL - Unwelcome touching, leaning over, cornering, pinching, patting/rubbing against, stroking, or other physical contact of such nature.

2. VERBAL - Unwelcome teasing, insults, intimation, jokes, remarks, comments, questions.

3. NONVERBAL - Notes, letters, posters, calendars, cartoons, or other material of unwelcoming nature.

4. VISUAL - Unwelcome exposure to visual objects such as: pictures, photos, drawings, cartoons, magazines, objects, or posters (including poster calendars); sexually obscene gestures or obvious staring; and, nudity.

WHAT IS NOT SEXUAL HARASSMENT?

Sexual harassment does not refer to the following situations:

* Occasional compliments of a socially acceptable nature;
* Mutual flirtation or contact that is desired and freely consented to is not sexual
harassment;
* It is not sexual harassment to develop friendships, any sort, with staff members or peers.

rather

It refers to behavior that is not welcome, that is personally offensive, that debilitates morale, and that, therefore, interferes with work effectiveness.

RESPONSIBILITIES OF EMPLOYER

Employers are responsible for the conduct of its managers and staff but also have a responsibility to protect their employees from harassment by non-employees (e.g., visitors, vendors, project partners, suppliers, etc). Hence, an employer has a responsibility to maintain a workplace that is free of sexual harassment, develop comprehensive sexual harassment policies and then post and distribute an effective grievance procedure to handle it. The employer shall reiterate its commitment to deal with cases of harassment confidentially to the greatest extent possible. Not only is this moral obligation, it is good business sense.

RESPONSIBILITIES OF EMPLOYEE

The firm shall encourage all employees to report any sexual harassment of which they are aware to the company. Every member of the firm is responsible for keeping his or her own behaviour free from sexual harassment. When possible, a member who experiences sexual harassment has a responsibility to bring behaviour of a sexual harassing nature to the attention of the offender.

On occasion, sexual harassment can be dealt with directly and informally by confronting the harasser with a clear message that the attention or action is unwanted. However, the firm recognizes that there may be power imbalances and other factors that make a confrontation awkward or impossible. Although informal resolution is encouraged where possible, confrontation is not a pre-requisite to making a sexual harassment complaint under this policy.

COST OF HARASSMENT TO EMPLOYER

Sexual harassment represents a cost to employers. If organizations allow sexual harassment to flourish in its workplace, it will bear a high cost in following terms:-

* Poor employee morale, motivation and job performance;
* Hostile and unpleasant working conditions;
* High employee turnover;
* Forming of cliques;
* Less teamwork;
* Gossip, scandals and distraction;
* Increased levels of absenteeism;
* Time and effort of management in dealing with the issues;
* Negative impacts on productivity, profitability and workplace culture;
* Loss of job satisfaction;
* Resignation of a valuable employee;
* Disruption to the workplace;
* Victimization complaints;
* Loss of Agency funds (if any);
* Poor publicity and tarnished image of the company, both internally as well as externally; and
* High costs associated with legal proceedings (if any).

COSTS OF HARASSMENT TO EMPLOYEE

* Feelings of alienation and guilt;
* Feelings of humiliation, embarrassment, and intimidation;
* Deteriorating family relationships;
* Loss of salary from frequent absences;
* Loss of income if fired or decision is made to resign;
* Physical symptoms, e.g. chronic fatigue, headaches, nausea;
* Psychological symptoms e.g. depression, nervousness, sleeplessness;
* Decrease in self-esteem and motivation;
* Poor concentration at work; and
* Medical bills.

 

 

CONCLUSION

Harassment in the workplace can have a profound effect on an individual or group of individuals and in turn on the organizations. It can lead to a de-motivated, de-moralized employee who may exhibit a high absenteeism level, poor work performance and a high level of minor ailments due to the manifestation of the effects that harassment is having on that individual. An employer has an obligation to protect employees. Organizations should develop comprehensive sexual harassment policies

In conjunction with setting up policy on harassment in the workplace, employers should consider the following pointers:

•Ensure the policy is circulated to all existing staff and is included in the induction programme for new staff.

•Make it known to all employees that harassment is a serious matter and will be dealt with promptly and thoroughly investigated.

•Managers should set standards of behaviour by treating all staff and customers with dignity and respect. Managers should receive training to understand the importance of a proactive consistent approach towards the problem. It is also important that managers take an objective, but sensitive, attitude towards harassment.

•Ensure that confidentiality is maintained (to the best of the organization's ability) prior to any formal complaint being made. This enables employees to feel protected and more inclined to highlight the problem.

•Provide an independent counseling option to help rebuild damaged confidence and self-esteem.

The author is Assistant Research Officer, Planning & Development Division, Fauji Foundation, Rawalpindi. e-mail: mahwish.riaz@fauji.org.pk