Harassment in the workplace: A reflection of society?

Harassment in the workplace: A reflection of society?

Business, Human Resources

Author: Bruce Macgregor (MacGregor Erasmus Attorneys Inc)

The Anti-workplace Harassment Code

Have you come across a manager who rules by sarcasm, fear or refusing to talk to non-compliant team members? Have you seen our unacceptable violence stats?

These are all signs of a silent pandemic existing within our society, including our workplaces: that being the harassment and unfair discrimination meted out on a daily basis.

Government is trying to address this pandemic, starting in March this year, with the Minister of Employment and Labour issuing a Code placing an obligation on employers to deal with harassment in all its forms, ranging from bullying to workplace harassment, including unfair discrimination and sexual harassment.

It’s a violent world

If adults are a reflection of their upbringing, then the statistics within South Africa and the world are worrying. Consider the following:

  1. 36% of children are sexually abused during their lifetime in South Africa (sOptimus Study – reported in SA Medical Journal).
  2. In America, the US Department of Health and Human Services tells us this figure sits at 9.2%
  3. The WHO’s latest report advises that 3 out of 4 children between 2 and 4 years old regularly suffer punishment or psychological violence at the hands of a parent or caregiver.
  4. In South Africa, the Minister of Basic Education announced in Parliament that between April 2021 and March 2022, 11 000 learners in Limpopo schools are pregnant at the instance of their teachers and blessers (older men).
  5. In America and the UK, 52% of employees report being sexually harassed during their work lifetime and in India this is as high as 95% of employees.
  6. 55% of sexually harassed employees develop mental issues such as anxiety, depression and PTSD.
  7. Various surveys find workplace harassment, excluding sexual harassment, to be experienced by 90% of participants during their work life, with some 50% indicating that they never report the incidents.

What’s clear is that our employees are coming from environments plagued with serious domestic and societal issues, whether you’re a child, wife, girlfriend or partner at the receiving end of unfair discrimination in some of its most horrendous forms. It’s clearly not the starting point for us to have engaged and productive employees, and so, companies need to give time and make an effort to resolve this issue, as much as possible, within the workplace.

So, what’s the solution?

As we spend more time at work than at home, this problem is being tackled at work. The Code seeks to create a culture of peaceful co-existence within the workplace, and an acceptance of fellow employees irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, pollical views and so on. It seeks a complete tolerance of different lifestyles, ultimately calling for management styles which are not harsh, but rather consistent, fair and patient.

To do so, employers are asked to root out harassers, put in policies and training to ingrain fairness and acceptance, and ensure that all employees are treated fairly and respectfully by managers, other employees, customers and service providers.

This starts with the board and the CEO, who need to be seen driving an agenda of acceptance and fairness, and for any breaches or incidents of harassment to be quickly and seriously dealt with.

In a world where international movement of people causes workplaces to be more diverse than ever, South Africa needs to work hard to ensure that nationalism in the form of cheap politicking at the expense of foreign nationals overshadows the good example our Rainbow Nation was demonstrating at the end the apartheid era.

Food for thought

As a final take: we are repeatedly told, as a result of ongoing research work from various bodies and experts, that engaged employees are productive employees. An unhappy workforce is an unproductive workforce, and even to the most hardened profit dividend employee, these consequences to the business are obvious and need to be stamped out.

For more sympathetic employers, clearly this is simply the right thing to do.

Bruce Macgregor is a South African attorney and English solicitor who specialises in employment law, business agreements and commercial litigation for local and international clients. He has a simple and uncluttered business orientated approach to employment issues, with a view to finding practical solutions to workplace issues.

Bruce is English and Zulu speaking, and served his articles under Ray Zondo, the current Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court.

At HRTorQue, we offer specialist high-level consulting to assist your employees, line managers and HR teams. This includes:

  1. Updating of policies and procedures aligned to the new Code on harassment.
  2. Coaching and guidance on how to manage instances of harassment in the workplace, to ensure that both parties are managed fairly and sensitively.
  3. Training to employees, line manages and HR teams (a key requirement of the Code). This includes understanding the legislation and the minimum requirements for workplace policies on harassment, unpacking employers’ obligations in managing harassment in the workplace, clearly defining harassment in the workplace, identifying and defining the various forms of harassment in the workplace and the processes that need to be followed when reporting harassment.

Email us for more information.