Published 11 August 2023, The Daily Tribune
Many of us consider our workplace our second home. We spend most of our daily lives at work, which is why the workplace must be one where we feel safe.
Keeping the workplace a safe space would not be possible without the indispensable participation of the employer. Recognizing this, the Safe Spaces Act makes it the duty of the employer to not only prevent but also to punish acts of gender-based sexual harassment in the workplace. This duty is imposed not only upon the employer but all other persons of authority, influence, and moral ascendancy. This applies not only to the private sector, but also to those in the public sector and even the informal economy.
How is the employer supposed to prevent gender-based sexual harassment in the workplace?
Under the law, employers are mandated to disseminate a copy of the law to the employees and build awareness on the issue of gender-based sexual harassment. They should provide preventive measures such as the conduct of anti-sexual harassment seminars and training on gender sensitivity.
Every employer should also create a Committee on Decorum and Investigation or CODI that will act as the main body in the investigation and resolution of cases involving gender-based sexual harassment in the workplace. The CODI shall be composed of at least one representative each from management and each employee level (supervisory rank, rank-and-file, union). At least 50 percent of its members should be women and it must be headed by a woman.
The members of the CODI should be impartial and not connected or related to the alleged perpetrator and must have no prior record of involvement in sexual harassment. The CODI shall at all times observe due process by giving the respondent proper notice and an opportunity to be heard, and it shall decide on complaints within 10 working days or less.
Apart from the CODI, employers should also develop a Code of Conduct or workplace policy in consultation with all persons in the workplace. For those who already have an existing Code of Conduct or Policy on Sexual Harassment, they are required to amend it to conform to the Safe Spaces Act.
What is required to be included in the Code of Conduct?
The Code of Conduct must define gender-based sexual harassment, its coverage and forms, classifications, and corresponding penalties. It must specify when and where sexual harassment may be committed and by whom. It may include a prohibition against sexual harassment by employers/employees of customers or clients of the company, and even interns. This is important because by defining what is acceptable and not, it makes all personnel sensitive about their behavior towards others.
The Code of Conduct must also specify the rules and procedures in the filing of cases, the investigation, resolution, and appeal. It must specify the composition, qualifications, functions, and responsibilities of the members of the CODI, including the penalties that may be imposed upon them in cases of non-performance or inadequate performance of their functions. To the extent possible, employers may also include the provision of support, especially for victims of gender-based sexual harassment, including among other things, counseling services, referral to such services, and assistance in the filing of cases.
Finally, employers should guarantee the confidentiality of the proceedings and ensure the protection of the complainant from retaliation without causing him/her disadvantage, diminution of benefits, or displacement, and without compromising his/her security of tenure. Similar protection from retaliation should also cover those who respond to, investigate, and appear as witnesses in a complaint.
The employers should take the foregoing duties seriously as they may be held responsible for non-implementation thereof or failure to take action on reported acts of gender-based sexual harassment in the workplace.