Policy statement against sexual harassment mandatory

Once the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill is passed and proclaimed, every company in this country will have to create workplace policy statements against sexual harassment.

That is according to Minister of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development, Senator Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo. She made the disclosure as she piloted the debate on the Bill in the Senate yesterday morning. The Bill states that every employer must ensure that there is a clear written policy statement against sexual harassment within the workplace; that a statement of that policy is presented to each employee on the commencement of employment; and that within six months of the commencement of this Act, every employer must ensure that the written policy statement against sexual harassment is prepared and presented to each person in their employ.

Outlining what such policy statements should contain, Minister Byer-Suckoo noted that once the legislation is passed through both Houses of Parliament and is enacted, companies will have a duty to create workplace policy statements against sexual harassment, which she said, must contain not only a definition of sexual harassment in keeping with the definition in the Act, but statements which indicate that every employee is entitled to employment free of sexual harassment and that the employer will make every reasonable effort to ensure that no employee is subjected to sexual harassment. Moreover, she said that the policy must state that the employer will undertake disciplinary measures as they deem appropriate in dealing with complaints of sexual harassment.

That policy should also include, she said, how complaints of sexual harassment may be brought to the attention of the employer and it must also state that the employer will not disclose the name of a complainant or the circumstances related to the complaint to any person except where disclosure is necessary for the purposes of investigating the complaint or taking disciplinary action.

“We know one of the reasons victims do not come forward is because they are afraid and so we made it very clear in the legislation that the employer is not to disclose.
The Labour Department will not disclose and final recourse is to the Employment Rights Tribunal, and the Employment Rights Tribunal in this instance will hear these matters in-camera. We know that right now the Employment Rights Tribunal hears cases and we’ve had occasions for example, in its first big case with the NCC, we had television coverage and so on, but for sexual harassment matters they will be in-camera, nobody is allowed to report on them, nothing is supposed to come out and go out in the public domain on matters related to sexual harassment,” the Minister maintained.

Last but not least, Byer-Suckoo said, the policy must inform employees of the provisions in this Act which gives them a right to make a complaint where sexual harassment is committed against them and indicate the relevant authority to whom the complaint must be made.

“This must be in the policy so that you know if you are sexually harassed, because the definition is in the policy, if you are sexually harassed, who you go to and if that is not dealt with, who you go to next. So that must be in the policy and the legislation certainly speaks to it,” she said.

According to the Bill, anyone who fails to create the policy and put it in place within the stipulated timeframe, is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5 000 or to imprisonment for a term of 12 months or to both. (JRT)

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