Source: | Victoria Fakiya, Nigeria

Equal Rights defines sexual harassment in the workplace as a form of unlawful sex discrimination. The law defines sexual harassment as, unwelcome verbal, visual, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature or based on someone’s sex that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment. It is unwelcome when it is not wanted by the second party.

The Balance Careers defines a Hostile Work Environment as a workplace in which unwelcome comments or conduct based on gender, race, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation, age, or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interfere with an employee’s work performance or create an intimidating or offensive work environment for the employee who is being harassed. This conduct can severely diminish an employee’s productivity and self-esteem both in and out of the workplace. A hostile work environment is created when anyone in a workplace commits this type of harassment, including a co-worker, a supervisor or manager, a contractor, client, vendor, or visitor.

Sexual harassment in the workplace ranges from sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos, such as pornography or salacious gifts with co-workers; sending suggestive letters, notes, or e-mails; making inappropriate sexual gestures; staring in a sexually suggestive or offensive manner, or whistling; making sexual comments about appearance, clothing, or body parts to others. It is important to know that the harasser does not only harass the harassed person if one or two people are there. That is, the harasser whose intention is to harass an employee at work does not only harass them but the people who witness the harassment. For instance, the CEO of a company ogles at the secretary in the presence of the HR manager! The HR manager sees it and is uncomfortable and maybe, intimidated. That is harassment! It is not sexual harassment if the direct or indirect victim is not offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Until recently, some countries like Nigeria have no law against sexual harassment in the workplace which makes the victims feel confused whenever harassed. And it is important to know that sexual harassment violates the rights to dignity of persons and personal liberty, hence, there should be a punishment against such in Nigeria.

However, having seen the rate at which sexual harassment in the workplace grows in Nigeria, Lagos state came up with a law against that in 2011.

Section 262(1) of the Criminal Law of Lagos States 2011 says, “Any person who sexually harasses another is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years.”

Section 254(C) (1) (g) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended in 2010) makes specific provisions granting the National Industrial Court of Nigeria exclusive jurisdiction over causes and matters “relating to or connected with any dispute arising from discrimination or sexual harassment at the workplace.”

Order 14(1) of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria Civil Procedure Rules 2017 provides that where a claimant alleges sexual harassment in the workplace, it should be indicated if the sexual harassment is:

“A Physical conduct of a sexual nature: such as unwanted physical contact, ranging from touching to sexual assault and rape, strip search by or in the presence of the opposite sex, gesture that constitutes the alleged sexual harassment ; and/or

A verbal form of sexual harassment: such as unwelcome innuendo, suggestions and hints, sexual advances, comments with sexual overtones, sex related jokes or insults, or unwelcome graphic comments about a person’s body, unwelcome and inappropriate enquiries about a person’s sex life and unwelcome whistling at a person or group of persons, any document, material or exhibit in further support of the claim; and/or

A non-verbal form of sexual harassment which includes unwelcome gestures, indecent exposures, and unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects; and/or

Quid pro quo harassment where an owner, employer, supervisor, member of management or co-employee undertakes or attempts to influence or influences the process of employment, promotion, training, discipline, dismissal, salary increments or other benefits of an employee or job applicant in exchange for sexual favours.”

Therefore, when harassed, you assertively say no to your harasser! You should tell them you do not want it because you find it offensive, humiliating or intimidating. It is not the right to do, hence you tell them. However, if they go on with the harassment, start documenting everything they say or do. Make sure your writings and recordings are dated before you report the act because you cannot file or win the case without evidence.

Also, as an employer, you should state the rules clearly. Make sure there is a conspicuous rule against sexual harassment within the work environment. Make it clear before your employees assume their positions. It is prudent to know that women are not the only victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. Men are also victims. Therefore, set the rules and penalties for both sexes. This would prevent sexual harassment in your workplace as an employer.

Finally, make sure you stay clear off sexual harassment in the workplace, school and public. If they do not want it, it is sexual harassment! Stop it. 

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