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Personal Finance

#Metoo campaign and what labour laws say

A protester during a gathering against
A protester during a gathering against gender-based and sexual violence in Paris on October 29, last year. PHOTO | AFP 

Towards the end of last year, there was a global campaign against sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, that is the #Metoo campaign.

It began as a Twitter campaign where victims of sexual harassment took the forum to expose their experiences.

The campaign has been very effective globally, especially since many high-profile individuals including celebrities and politicians, have come out openly about their experiences.

The #Metoo campaign in Kenya resulted in the exposure of an alleged scandal at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) where there were claims of sexual attacks on patients in the maternity wing.

It also led to a lot of changes at the referral hospital including resignations and investigations.

Globally the #Metoo campaign has led to several high-profile resignations, investigations and arrests.

Sexual harassment does not affect only women or employees, some men have exposed their experiences during the campaign. It may also affect stakeholders such as customers as was the case at the KNH.

The #Metoo campaign has definitely changed the workplace dynamics and in some cases resulted in new laws.

This campaign has also led to several lawsuits, popularly known as the #Metoo suits.

In Kenya, there are several such cases where the claimants have sought some redress for sexual harassment in the workplace. However, it is not clear if the #Metoo campaign led to the suits. The campaign has increased awareness of human rights in the workplace.

A lot of acts that were considered as harmless flirtations have been increasingly categorised as sexual harassment.

As a result, professionals are more cautious with how they handle themselves lest they fall victim to this campaign.

In some industries, it has been reported that workplace romance and flings have decreased.

It is interesting that the #Metoo campaign has also increased defamation cases by persons alleged to be aggressors of sexual harassment. For example, the case of Geoffrey Rush versus Daily Mail.

It is, therefore, important to verify the truth surrounding a #Metoo accusation to avoid defamation cases.

Social media-based defamation is actionable. Therefore, before posting on social media or sharing a #Metoo post ensure it is truthful.

The campaign has led to changes in workplace policies, for example, many organisations are reviewing their anti-harassment policies and gender-based discrimination on salaries.

There are some laws, which allow victims of sexual assault to get 30 days off work.

Given the dynamics, it is important for Kenyan organisations to review their policies on sexual harassment. A good policy should have a complaint and investigations mechanism, training, dispute resolution and disciplinary action.

Staff need to be trained in the dynamics of sexual harassment. A labour suit based on sexual harassment can be very detrimental to an organisation.

Given the #Metoo campaign, organisations should have social media policies guiding disclosure of such actions to the public.

While employees have a freedom of expression, the policy should be such that staff who give false information or defame the organisation should be disciplined.

Furthermore, the organisation can specifically bar employees from participating in #Metoo or social media campaigns that paint it in a bad light.

The #metoo campaign has demonstrated the effectiveness of social media as a change agent.

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