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Letter: Sexual harassment at work
Published on April 11, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

The writer hopes that republication of this article will raise greater awareness that harassment of women, especially of the youth, continues unabated despite the efforts of governmental agencies and international women rights organizations to stamp out this despicable practice.

An appeal is made to young women, in particular those new to the workplace, to read this article carefully – know and exercise your rights – liberate yourselves!

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. The legal definition: unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature, severe or pervasive, affecting working conditions or creating a hostile work environment.

Conduct is not sexual harassment if it is welcomed. It is important to communicate verbally, in writing, or by your own actions to the harasser that the conduct makes you uncomfortable and that you want it to stop.

Sexual harassment includes conduct that may be verbal, visual or physical: comments about clothing, personal behaviour, or a person’s body; sexual or sex-based jokes; requesting sexual favours or repeatedly asking a person out; sexual innuendoes; telling rumours about a person’s personal or sexual life.

If behaviour is unwelcomed; if it is severe or pervasive, then it is sexual harassment.
Impeding or blocking movement; inappropriate touching of a person or a person’s clothing; stroking, looking up and down a person’s body; derogatory gestures or facial expressions of a sexual nature; following a person; posters, drawings, pictures, screensavers or emails of a sexual nature are red flags.

The harasser’s conduct must either be severe or pervasive to be considered sexual harassment. A single incident may not be deemed sexual harassment unless it is severe.

“Although a single unwanted request for a date or one sexually suggestive comment might offend you and/or be inappropriate, it may not be sexual harassment. However, a number of relatively minor separate incidents may add up to sexual harassment if the incidents affect your work environment. Some questions you can ask yourself to determine whether the conduct is pervasive are: How many times did the incidents occur? How long has the harassment been going on? How many other people were also sexually harassed?”

If you are fired, refused a promotion, demoted, given a poor performance evaluation, or reassigned to a less desirable position because you reject the sexual advances of your boss, that, good citizens of Grenada, is sexual harassment.

Even if the conduct does not result in economic injury or change of status to your job, it is sexual harassment because it is unreasonable conduct that may interfere with your work performance or create an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

If repeated sexual comments make you so uncomfortable at work that your performance suffers or if you decline professional opportunities because it will put you in contact with the harasser, that again, sisters and brothers, is sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment especially against young women in Grenada is a snowballing problem, so far left relatively unchecked. Men, in particular those in authority, take liberties targeting defenseless youth caught in the economic quagmire. Helpless to “make ends meet” the survival instinct kicks in; they acquiesce.

And we decry the moral decay of the youth!

Know your rights:

Both men and women can be sexually harassed; someone of the same or opposite sex can sexually harass you. Sexual harassment is against the law; so is retaliating against someone for complaining about sexual harassment or for participating in an investigation of sexual harassment.

Retaliation may include the following: you complain about sexual harassment and are made to take an unpaid leave of absence, although the harasser continues to work; after you write a letter describing sexual harassment that you witnessed, you are reassigned to a less desirable position in the same or different department. If your employer retaliates against you for complaining about sexual harassment or for participating as a witness in an investigation of sexual harassment, you should (1) report the matter to your union representative immediately; (2) file a charge with the pertinent government agency and/or go to court.

Employers have a moral and legal responsibility to prevent and stop sexual harassment of employees. Employers must: (1) take reasonable care to prevent sexual harassment; (2) take reasonable care to promptly correct sexual harassment that has occurred.

To satisfy the requirement of reasonable care an employer may distribute to employees a policy manual prohibiting sexual harassment and informing employees of the complaint process. If an employer has a policy and does not enforce it, and if the employer fails to investigate sexual harassment complaints but investigates other complaints of misconduct, then the employer may not be taking reasonable care.

To be legally responsible for taking reasonable care to correct sexual harassment, the employer must be made aware that the harassment has occurred. It is therefore important that you follow your company’s internal grievance procedures, if they exist, or to otherwise notify your supervisor if you are experiencing harassment.

It is sometimes hard to report harassment because you might feel embarrassed or think that it was your fault even though it is not.

Let nothing dissuade you from reporting sexual harassment – your daughter, son or loved one may be next! It must be stopped and not allowed to fester.

When good people stand by and say nothing while innocent victims - of a perverted few – suffer defilement and injustice, when there is no national outcry, no national dialog addressing those intolerant and stressful working conditions, when the legislative and judicial bodies turn a blind eye or delay justice, when young vulnerable women face sexual harassment from the boss, co-worker, or customers at work, the writer is painfully reminded of those profound words, the famous statement attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power:

First they came for the communists,
   and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
   and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
   and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
   and there was no one left to speak for me

Many women, in particular the inexperienced youthful (and increasingly male employees) are subjected daily to some form of sexual harassment.

Lets us all say NO to sexual harassment where ever it may occur!

This writer calls upon the prime minister and his Cabinet to look at sexual harassment, wherever and whenever it occurs, as a festering and malignant social cancer eroding the moral fabric of our country and stifling the productive capacity, of especially, women in society.

Prime Minister, the Hon. Dr Keith Claudius Mitchell, should prevail upon his Cabinet and Parliament to swiftly pass legislation to protect the nation’s women (our mothers, wives and daughters).

It is the writer’s absolute conviction that this step will awake and embolden leaders, not only the region, but internationally, to follow the lead of a gutsy Caribbean prime minister in protecting women.

Can this be the cornerstone to Dr Mitchell’s legacy? I’ll put my bets on it!

Kit Stonewalling
Reads: 3547

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The Caribbean Writer 2014

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