Workplace Harassment and Humiliation
- Featured article by LAWYERS-ONLINE.CO.ZA - October 2018
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In this article we take a look at issues around labour relations and the workplace. Unfair treatment, harassment and even unfair dismissal of employees are nothing new. In fact, it is an ever-growing issue across the world.
The effects of such treatment can result in physical altercations and even psychological traumas. Statistics show that humiliation, degrading conduct, harassment and even bullying stay with employees long after they leave the work environment at which the situations occurred and often manifests into extreme stress and anxiety disorders that carry over into new work environments.
Earlier this month a young saleswoman was forced to wear a humiliating naughty-corner sign at a Tekkie Town branch in the Baywest Mall. The employee was made to stand at the store window and expose her punishment to shoppers and passers-by for apparently defying her supervisor. Her defiance was that of laughter and casual chat with a co-worker while the store was quiet.
After enduring the humiliation of her punishment for a time, she apologised to her supervisor and asked to be moved from the window and get back to work. The supervisor said no, to which the employee then shouted that she wanted to be moved from the window. The supervisor then got tape and covered the employee’s mouth. People took photos of the young saleswoman and her picture went viral.
The employee has opened up a case of defamation against the supervisor, the supervisor has been suspended and an investigation is pending.
Had the employee been guilty of a real transgression, as opposed to something trivial, the above treatment would still not be acceptable.
Here are some helpful points to be aware of when faced with similar situations.
Workplace harassment is a violation of fundamental human rights. Section 6(3) of the Employment Equity Act of 1998 (EEA) recognises harassment as a form of unfair discrimination and prohibits this behaviour on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and disability.
If harassment or discrimination arises in your workplace, it must be reported to the employer. The employer is obligated to call in all the relevant parties and investigate the situation and take the necessary steps to eliminate the alleged conduct. When the employer fails to take the necessary steps to stop the conduct and comply with the EEA the employer will be deemed to also have contravened the provisions of the EEA. An employee, after facing such conduct, is entitled to compensation and damages.
Unfortunately, most legal actions around these matters are based around discrimination factors as mentioned above. An employer or even co-worker can be a complete tyrant and legally there is not much that can be done. Unless, of course, the conduct escalates as in the case above and the person can be held liable directly without going through your employment channels, like opening a case of slander, defamation, harassment and so forth.
One can stipulate in a work contract that the employer carry out disciplinary actions in a respectful, fair and just manner that will not humiliate, degrade or shame you. When the contract is breached further action can be taken. In cases of employee to employee conflict, it must be taken up with the employer to which he/she is obligated to follow the appropriate steps as mentioned above.
If you are the victim of unfair dismissal, it is a case for labour court. The CCMA is often a good place to start if you aim to take such conduct further. Some people may feel like they need to resign under duress as nothing is done about the conduct at work. This is also perceived as a form of unfair dismissal and can also be taken to labour court.
Remember that when your case is taken to labour court and no matter how cheated you feel, your case must have grounds and must be proven.
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