Draft policy seeks to protect workers from harassment

Draft policy to protect workers against race and gender-based discrimination released by labour minister.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, South Africa’s labour minister Thulas Nxesi recently released the draft policy on steps employers should take to prevent and eliminate violence and harassment in the workplace. The policy falls under the Employment Equity Act and, if passed, would apply to all business sectors in South Africa.

The draft states that workplace violence and harassment “may include physical abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse,” as well as the use of force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself or another person, or against a group or community.

The policy aims to protect workers against race-based and gender-based discrimination. Examples of this discrimination include racist jokes and gestures, name-calling, negative stereotyping, exclusion, and marginalisation. Bullying can include withholding work-related information or providing wrong information, sabotaging someone's work performance, ostracising, or disregarding a person, surveillance with harmful intent and spreading rumours maliciously.

Conduct might not be considered bullying if the incident is an isolated, one-time event or if the two parties have equal standing in the company.

Under the draft policy, an employer would not be held liable for an employee’s actions if the employer shows that it took all reasonable steps to prevent harassment and violence. 

Johan Botes, a Johannesburg-based attorney with Baker McKenzie says, “We are seeing more senior managers and executives being held liable for bullying or harassing management styles, with businesses less likely to excuse unwarranted behaviour from otherwise talented or high-flying executives. Public outcries, product or company boycotts, and social media campaigns arguably contribute to the pressure on businesses to take steps to address workplace harassment, especially where this relates to sexual harassment or racial bullying.”

The draft states that employers should establish a workplace culture in which violence and harassment are considered unacceptable. The employer’s suppliers, clients, job applicants and other partners should never be subjected to violence or harassment.

Additionally, the policy would apply to employees’ behaviour during rest breaks and mealtimes, in the bathroom and other facilities, and during work-related travel, events, and social activities.

Employers should provide necessary information and training to make sure the working environment is safe, meaning free of violence and harassment. Employers also should periodically remind employees that they can bring a complaint without fear of retribution, and supervisors should never trivialise or ignore complaints.