In the age and century in which we live now, sexual harassment has become a grave topic to speak of. Where these kinds of acts were dealt with in the “Hush-hush”, and were rarely reported on during previous years, the importance of a safe and secure workplace for all persons has become a paramount point of employment.

This article will showcase how to identify sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as show the proper ways in which both employers, and employees are meant to handle situations of sexual harassment.

Identification of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can be defined as unwarranted conduct of a sexual nature, which is characterised by unwelcome physical harassment, ranging from touching to sexual assault and rape. Sexual harassment may also include verbal or nonverbal conduct of a sexual nature, such as unwelcome innuendoes, sexual advances, comments with sexual overtones, sex-related jokes or insults or unwelcome graphic comments about a person’s body.

Non-verbal forms of sexual harassment include unwanted gestures, indecent exposure or the showing of unwelcomed display of sexual imagery. It is also noteworthy that sexual harassment may go so far as to include sexual favouritism in the workplace, wherein management prizes only those individuals who respond to their sexual advances.

Role of the workplace in creating a safe work environment for employees

It is of paramount importance that employers create a work environment which safeguards an employee’s rights to dignity, by establishing an environment where employees who have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, feel free to lay grievances against the perpetrators. This can only be achieved when management is adequately trained through human resource training, which aids in equipping management with the necessary tools i.e. policies & policy statements, and skills needed to maintain a work environment wherein sexual harassment is completely unacceptable.

Such a work environment mandates and demands that management take the appropriate steps and the necessary actions against perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace when instances of sexual harassment occur and / or are brought under management’s attention. Any effective way of creating such an environment is to make use of policy statements, which can also be put on display throughout the workplace and communicated effectively to all employees.

These policy statements must outline that amongst other things that (a) allegations of sexual harassment will be dealt with seriously, expeditiously, sensitively and confidentially, and that (b) Employees will be protected against victimisation, retaliation for lodging grievances, and protected from false accusations.

What steps can I as a victim take?

The first step to take is to know that sexual harassment constitutes unfair labour practice towards you, as you have the right to a workplace that is free of sexual harassment, as well as to the right to be treated with dignity and respect. You also have the right to be treated equally and not to be discriminated against your race, gender and your HIV status. You finally also hold the right to report sexual harassment without fear or victimisation.

As a victim one can try to deal with the harassment in an informal way so-to-speak, by talking to the perpetrator and asking them to stop their behaviour as it makes you uncomfortable. Alternatively the best informal way is to address an email to the perpetrator with respect to their conduct, wherein you outline how it makes you feel, such that if and /or when your attempt in confronting the perpetrator fails, you may be able to present evidence when seeking the necessary relief through the more formal and appropriate forums. These formal forums include such as laying a formal grievance, criminal and civil charges and dispute resolution at the CCMA.

Dispute resolution aided through the CCMA is an excellent manner with which one can act against sexual harassment should one have tried and exhausted the internal procedures set above, or if the perpetrator themselves is the one who you need to report the harassment to.

Either party (the person alleging sexual harassment or the accused) may within 30 days of the dispute having arisen, refer the matter to the CCMA for conciliation in accordance with the provisions of section 135 of the Labour Relations Act, Should the dispute remain unresolved.

Further to this, either party may refer the dispute to the Labour Court within 30 days of receipt of the certificate issued by the commissioner from the CCMA in terms of section 135(5) of the Labour Relations Act.

When following the CCMA Route employees can describe the dispute as unfair discrimination in line with section 10 of the employment equity act and record their desired outcome as the employer to stop discriminating against them, as sexual harassment can be viewed as a form of discrimination. Discrimination being defined as the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of ethnicity, age, sex, or disability.


Sexual harassment can only be effectively combated and prevented through awareness which is characterised by information and education as such the Human Resources department must ensure that copies of policies and or codes of conduct are accessible and available throughout the work place.

The employer and employer’s organisations should also include the issue of sexual harassment in their orientation education and training programs. Lastly employers should be sensitive and well versed when dealing with allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace and conduct individual interviews with both victim and perpetrator to hear both sides of the story before concluding that the alleged acts are indeed acts of sexual harassment. It is the responsibility of the employer and the employee to ensure and safeguard these channels in an effort to prevent the abuse and misuse of channels and forums which are to protect employees from sexual harassment.


This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.