Creating Safe Workplaces: Combating Sexual Harassment

The Employment Act 2007, a landmark piece of legislation in Kenya, serves as a cornerstone for regulating labor relations and protecting the rights of employees in the country. Among the many critical aspects it covers, one that has garnered significant attention in recent years is the issue of sexual harassment. In this blog post, we will explore the provisions of the Employment Act 2007 related to sexual harassment and discuss how organizations in Kenya should deal with this pressing issue, including active measures like calling out sexual harassment as it unfolds.

Understanding Sexual Harassment

Before delving into how organizations should handle sexual harassment, it is crucial to comprehend what constitutes sexual harassment. According to the Employment Act 2007, sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that create a hostile or intimidating work environment. This can occur in various forms, such as inappropriate comments, suggestive gestures, or even non-consensual physical contact.

Legal Provisions

The Employment Act 2007 provides clear legal provisions aimed at addressing and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. Some key provisions include:

  1. Prohibition: The Act explicitly prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, making it a violation of the law.
  2. Employer Responsibility: Employers are required to take steps to prevent and address sexual harassment within their organizations. They must develop and implement policies and procedures for handling complaints related to sexual harassment.
  3. Complaint Mechanisms: The Act mandates that employers establish mechanisms for employees to report incidents of sexual harassment confidentially. It is vital for organizations to ensure that these reporting channels are easily accessible and well-publicized.
  4. Investigations: Once a complaint is received, the Act requires the employer to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into the matter.
  5. Protection of Complainants: The Act prohibits retaliation against employees who make complaints of sexual harassment, ensuring that those who come forward are protected from adverse consequences.

How Should Organizations Deal with Sexual Harassment?

Addressing sexual harassment is not only a legal obligation but also a moral imperative for organizations in Kenya. Here are some essential steps that organizations should take to effectively deal with sexual harassment:

Develop Clear Policies: Organizations should establish comprehensive anti-sexual harassment policies that outline what constitutes sexual harassment, the reporting process, and the consequences for perpetrators. These policies should be communicated to all employees and easily accessible.

Training and Awareness: Regular training sessions on sexual harassment prevention and awareness should be conducted for all employees. This helps in fostering a culture of respect and understanding.

Create Safe Reporting Channels: Ensure that employees have access to multiple reporting channels, both within the organization and externally, such as through labor unions or regulatory bodies. Encourage employees to report incidents without fear of retaliation.

Swift and Impartial Investigations: When a complaint is filed, organizations should initiate a prompt and impartial investigation. This investigation should be handled by trained personnel to ensure fairness.

Support for Victims: Provide support and counseling services to victims of sexual harassment. It’s important for the organization to show empathy and take steps to protect the well-being of the complainant.

Disciplinary Action: If an investigation confirms an incident of sexual harassment, the organization should take appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrator. This can range from warnings to termination, depending on the severity of the offense.

Regular Review: Periodically review and update anti-sexual harassment policies and procedures to ensure their effectiveness and compliance with any changes in the law.

Active Measures: Calling Out Sexual Harassment

In addition to the legal provisions and the steps outlined above, organizations in Kenya can take active measures to combat sexual harassment as it unfolds within their workplaces. These measures include:

Encourage Bystander Intervention: Promote a culture where employees feel empowered to intervene when they witness sexual harassment. Encourage them to speak up and call out inappropriate behavior as it happens. This can serve as a powerful deterrent and offer immediate support to potential victims.

Provide Training on Active Intervention: Offer training sessions that equip employees with the knowledge and skills to intervene safely and effectively. Teach them how to defuse tense situations and report incidents promptly.

Establish Clear Reporting Protocols: Ensure that employees are aware of the steps to take when they witness or experience sexual harassment. Provide guidelines for reporting incidents, including whom to contact and what information to provide.

Immediate Action: When sexual harassment is witnessed, organizations should take immediate action to address the situation. This might include separating the individuals involved, conducting an initial inquiry, and providing support to the victim.

Document Incidents: Encourage employees to document incidents of sexual harassment they observe or experience. This documentation can be vital during investigations and legal proceedings.

The Employment Act 2007 makes it clear that sexual harassment has no place in Kenyan workplaces. Organizations have a legal and ethical responsibility to prevent, address, and eradicate sexual harassment within their ranks. In addition to following legal provisions, active measures such as calling out sexual harassment as it unfolds can play a crucial role in creating a safe and inclusive work environment. By implementing robust policies, providing training, fostering a culture of respect, accountability, immediate action, and encouraging bystander intervention, organizations can contribute to a safer and more equitable society in Kenya. It is not only a legal obligation but also a vital step toward building a workplace where every employee can thrive without the fear of harassment.