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Workplace Sexual Harassment; Are you guilty or a victim?

Quietly, thousands of women (and men but predominantly women) in the world face an uphill battle at home, at work and on college campuses. The battle is sexual harassment. The numbers are staggering. Every day, hundreds of thousands of women are sexually harassed. In the developing nations, because of customs and traditions, women are afraid to speak out.
In addition, they feel ashamed and are fearful of losing their jobs if they bring sexual harassment to the attention of authorities. Also, Sexual harassment is clearly an example of the challenges faced by the Human Resource function in the new global market.

What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which makes you feel offended, uncomfortable, intimidated or humiliated. There are generally two types of sexual harassment at work:

1. Quid pro quo – this is when your submission to a sexual act or sexual advances is seen as a condition for either getting a job, a promotion, or any other benefit in your job with you would normally have been entitled to, and should be based on merit.

2. Offensive working environment – this is when you receive unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It includes things like:

– comments about appearance, body or clothes
– indecent remarks
– Questions or comments about your sex life
– Looking or staring at a person’s body
– Display of sexually explicit material in shared workspace or sending and sharing sexually explicit material via email

Physical abuse – this is when there is direct physical contact with you including any unwarranted touching, brushing their body or any object against yours, hugging, caressing, kissing, sexual assault, and rape.

Curbing Workplace Sexual Harassment
If you are sexually assaulted or raped. Then ignore all the steps below and go straight to the Police Station to report the crime. We suggest you go with someone you trust for support for e.g. a family member, support groups or you can contact a lawyer.

Step 1 – Confront the Person
In some instances, the person harassing you might not be aware that they are causing offence. They might feel that the acts or words that you find offensive is just banter or harmless flirting. That is why it is important to address it firmly and directly. Inform the person that you find the action or words offensive and you would like them to stop, and that if the act continues you will have no choice but to report it.

Step 2 – Document it
If the person refuses to stop after you confront them, then you need to begin to build a case by gathering evidence. Unfortunately, in most cases of sexual harassment it is one person’s words against the other, and so you must think ahead and ensure that you are able to back up any allegations you make when you report the person.

Step 3- Report It
If you work in a well-structured company, the chances are that there is an employee handbook that lays out the procedure to follow in order to make a complaint against an employee. Follow the process laid out.

You must ensure that you inform your supervisor and the Human Resources (HR) department. If your supervisor is the person you are complaining about, then you should report to your supervisor’s supervisor.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, very few companies are set up with a proper HR system for making complaints. In actual fact a lot of them are one man businesses where the person who is the alleged harasser is actually the owner of the business. If unfortunately, this is your situation, you should quit. There is no point reporting to someone who is the person you are complaining about. If you followed Step 1 and the person still continued harassing you, it is unlikely you will get a favourable outcome.

However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any legal recourse. Please jump to Step 6 below.

Step 4 – Monitor
After the internal disciplinary process has run its course, you need to monitor the situation. Has there been a change? Is the person still harassing you? Have it moved from harassing to victimization?

This will determine what further step you should take.

If the person has stopped harassing you, then that’s great news. You can stop here
If the person has stopped harassing you, but then started victimising you, then you should report this situation to HR, this time not as harassment but as victimisation.
If HR has refused to take any action against the person, or has decided that you have no case, then you should move to step 5 below
Appropriate outcomes may include your employer issuing a warning or some form of disciplinary action to the harasser, transferring the harasser or you the victim (in some circumstances), subjecting the harasser to training on how to behave in a work environment, or in some cases dismissal.

Step 5 – Quit
If you are at this stage, then unfortunately it would seem that all steps above have failed and there is only one option left, to quit. You should not have to work in an environment where you do not feel comfortable and you feel oppressed constantly.

Step 6 – Get Legal Assistance
You should contact a lawyer to assist you. There are criminal law options and civil law options available.
Sexual harassment is a crime in Nigeria, and at any point in the steps above you can involve the police in the matter, but we advise that you do so only after Step 2 where you have had a chance to document the evidence which you will need.

If you are forced to resign or you resign on your own, you can sue the company for the harassment. Under Nigerian law, the National Industrial Court is the special court that has jurisdiction to hear cases of sexual harassment at work. You can sue the employee and the company for the harassment (the employer can be held vicariously liable for the acts of their employee- the person who is harassing you, especially if it is shown they have not taken any steps to protect you from the harassment).

You can also sue the, for constructive dismissal – this basically means that they have forced you to resign due to making the office environment intolerable for you, therefore giving you no choice but to resign.

Remedies which the court can grant include back pay or reinstatement (if you were forced to resign); hiring or promotion (if it was quid pro quo harassment); compensatory damages (emotional pain and suffering); punitive damages (damages to punish the employer) etc.

Curled ; LawPadi

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