In recent months there has been a resurgence of conversations regarding the absence of a sexual harassment legislation in Jamaica. The legislation we hope would clarify the boundaries of what is prohibited, to encourage prevention (through sexual harassment policies) and to provide an early response mechanism within workplaces, to ensure fair treatment of workers during disciplinary proceedings. Having a legislation would require the employer to keep the workplace free from harassment.
For many women and men in the workplace, they do not know what constitutes sexual harassment and there is a culture of silence surrounding this topic in Jamaica because we have concluded that being groped or spoken to inappropriately by a member of the same or opposite sex while working is the norm. Harassment in the workplace can be classified into two groups that covers sexual misconduct in its entirety: Hostile Environment and the Quid Pro Quo Effect in the workplace. A hostile environment means that whenever you are working you have someone that is constantly trying to touch you inappropriately, trying to get in your space even when you are consistently telling them no and that you do not like the idea of them approaching you in that way. While the Quid Pro Quo reaction is when another person attempts to get you to perform a sexual activity to them for you to be promoted or propel your career.
If you feel that you are being harassed on the job, you can take the following steps:
- Let the harasser know immediately from the first time it happens that you disapprove.
- Document the incident in writing the first time it happens. Keep a record of what was said or done, the time, date and location, and continue to document subsequent utterances or actions.
- Speak to other persons in your office as there may be other persons facing the same harassment but are too afraid to say anything.
- Speak to someone in your Human Resource Department to find out what policy is in place and the complaint procedure.
- And finally, you can take legal action if nothing is done by your employer to ameliorate the situation. Furthermore, if you are dissatisfied with the actions taken by your employer, you can seek independent legal counsel within the purview offered under Jamaican laws.
Additionally, if you are dismissed from your workplace because you refused some sexual advance from a colleague, the recommended response is to report this to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security or your Attorney.
Abi-Gaye White-Thomas B.A., LL.B (Hons)