HR EXPERTS: Time for proper sexual harassment law and protocols

Monday, November 4, 2019 - 09:00

A call for proper systems -- including clear cut legislation -- to be put in place to deal with cases of sexual harassment in this country.

It comes in light of the recent furore surrounding the Darryl Smith Report -- the outcome of a probe of sexual harassment allegations against the former minister, and a wrongful dismissal claim by the alleged victim.

According to HR consultant, Cavelle Joseph-St Omer, it is imperative that there are properly trained practitioners to handle sexual harassment cases in this country.

She notes that public servants can access the public service commission to address such complaints; while in the private sector, companies are required to have a clear policy on sexual harassment, as well as competent HR personnel who can deal with such matters.

However, Cavelle Joseph-St Omer is calling for clear cut law to deal with sexual harassment cases, because there are limited remedies available to victims.

“There is the Sexual Offences Act, as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Equal Opportunities Act and the Equal Opportunities Commission,” she explains. “The Equal Opportunities Commission is responsible for adjudicating on human rights issues, and employees can go to the Commission with their claims, but there are some limitations.”

She states: “You have to prove to the Commission that you have been exposed to sexual harassment because of some measure of discrimination, and this is often hard to prove, nor is it always the case.”

Meanwhile, chief executive at PEAPSL Consultancy Services, Neil Parsanlal, believes there may be a need for a complete culture change, in order to reduce instances of sexual harassment in the T&T workplace.

He says the highly sexually charged culture of this country sometimes leaves people confused as to whether or not they have been sexually harassed, during their interactions with co-workers.

He points out there is a huge difference between flirting advances and outright sexual harassment.

“You will know when you are being sexually harassed. You feel offended and violated,” he notes. “I tell men all the time, if a women says ‘No!’, the answer is ‘No!’,” he explains. “If a woman tells you ‘I feel offended by you touching my shoulder’, then that means ‘Don’t touch my shoulder’.”

Neil Parsanlal explains one of the main reasons why sexual harassment cases are under-reported—or not reported at all—is because the victims often feel tremendous shame about what’s happened to them. He says they are concerned that no one would believe them, and even that they somehow may have brought it on themselves.

He notes, in addition, many of them don’t know to whom to turn for help, or whether help can be had.

“Sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace—any kind of harassment—thrives in silence. As long as companies create a culture where employees can step forward, they can get the help they need,” Parsanlal says.

He adds: “Apart from your employer, there are other avenues employees can turn ton if they feel they have been sexually harassed.”

Neil Parsanlal and Cavelle Joseph-St Omer underscore the point that both men and women can be sexual harassment victims—as well as perpetrators.


Story by NEWS DESK