Think a nudge and a wink are fine for the office? You’d be wrong (and may be up on harassment charges).

New legislation released by the government and gazetted in March 2022 has changed the law around harassment in working spaces. This new code of good practice doesn’t just look at the overt forms of harassment that have been traditionally associated with unfair workplace behaviour; it also undertakes to recognise the more nuanced behaviours that can now be considered one and the same. As Nicol Myburgh, Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, explains, the new code is about comprehensively identifying harassment in all its forms.

“When you think harassment, you likely think sexual harassment, bullying, physical and emotional abuse, gender-based violence, racial abuse and physiological abuse,” he says. “Now, it is important that companies inject an entirely new level of awareness into their office compliance that transcends these violent and overt attacks. Now, companies and employees need to pay attention to the behaviours that have previously not been included in the scope of harassment.”

These more nuanced harassment behaviours include passive aggressive or covert harassment tactics that often cause toxic and hostile workspaces and are equally often hard to pin down, or are ignored. This includes negative gossip, sarcasm, deliberate embarrassment, marginalisation, negative joking, deliberate exclusion and invisible treatment, among others.

“Companies are obliged to put policies and procedures in place that clearly state their position regarding how they will manage and eliminate abuse and harassment in all their forms,” says Myburgh. “The code, as outlined in the gazette, applies to all employees and employers and is a guide to best practice when it comes to harassment. However, it also outlines that the perpetrators and victims of harassment can include clients, contractors and suppliers, which means that, alongside a clearly defined policy, companies need to put some form of indemnity in place.”

To further protect employees and the company, it’s important to invest in awareness training for all supervisory staff.

“Because every interaction with every employee is considered part of this code, you need to ensure that everyone is aware of how their behaviours can be interpreted by others, and how to manage these in line with the law.

“You need to ensure that appropriate action is taken in accordance with the code should someone break the boundaries of thereof,” concludes Myburgh. “It should be noted that a single incident is now considered a valid complaint. This code introduces several layers of complexity to all interactions across the business and employees so you must put processes in place to make this easier for everyone, and to build a culture of awareness and respect.”

It’s advisable for companies to invest into consulting services that can guide management teams and employees through the harassment regulations and best practice processes for aligning the company culture with them. This will ensure that every box is ticked and every person made aware of the ramifications of breaking the law and missing the harassment mark.

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