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Personal Finance

Sexual harassment at workplace exposes employers to risk

 sexual harassment
Most sexual harassment incidents at the workplace are treated as employment matters. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Sexual harassment is any unwanted conduct of sexual nature, it has the effect of violating the dignity of an employee, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive working environment for them.

In some instance, it may occur even where the perpetrator does not mean for it to be or even where it is not directed to a specific person.

Because sexual harassment is one of the most difficult situations an employee can find himself or herself, the law protects the victims. The protection comes both from employment laws and Penal Code depending on the circumstance involved.

Sexual harassment may take many forms. However, over time, the courts have established the following to be the clearest forms of sexual harassment — written or verbal comments of sexual nature about an employee’s appearance, questions about their sex life or offensive jokes, displaying pornographic or explicit images, unwanted physical contact and touching, sexual assault and e-mail communication with contents of sexual nature.

In Kenya, Section 6(2) of the Employment Act 2007 provides that an employer who employs 20 or more employees shall, after consulting with the employees or their representatives if any, issue a policy statement on sexual harassment. Through the sexual harassment policy, an employer should make it clear to workers what sort of behaviour would be considered unacceptable.

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Although most sexual harassment incidents at the workplace are treated as employment matters, some types such as assault and physical threats are criminal and employees who find themselves in such situation are encouraged to make a report to the police besides other disciplinary action that may be preferred by the employer.

An employer may initiate disciplinary actions against the perpetrator without necessarily having to wait for the outcome of criminal proceedings provided the same is done with a measure of fairness.

Any employee who feels they have been sexually harassed or any worker who feels they have witnessed sexual harassment take place can make a complaint of sexual harassment either to the HR and security department of an organisation, police or both depending on the nature of the harassment.

Of impotence is for the employee to check the policy that their organisation might have on how complaints are lodged. Many organisations will suggest complaints can be made by writing a grievance letter to the appropriate supervisor or managers. All complaints of sexual harassment should be taken seriously and handles fairly and sensitively.

The writer is Associate, Simiyu Wekesa Advocates.

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