New rules in SA: Gossiping, forcing one to resign, joking about a co-worker banned at all workplaces

New rules in SA: Gossiping, forcing one to resign, joking about a co-worker banned at all workplaces

The Department of Employment and Labour has gazetted its code of good practice aimed at eliminating harassment at South African workplaces.

While working in South Africa comes with adhering to long-standing laws regarding equity in the workplace through the Employment Equity Act and other regulations, the new code of practice takes things a step further by aiming to ‘completely eliminate all forms of harassment’ in the workplace.

The code further identifies the steps that employers must take to eliminate harassment, including the development and implementation of policies, procedures and practices that will lead to the creation of workplaces that are free from harassment.

What is harassment? 

The term ‘harassment’ is not currently defined in the Employment Equity Act, with the new code of practice defining it as:

  • Unwanted conduct, which impairs dignity;
  • Which creates a hostile or intimidating work environment for one or more employees or is calculated to, or has the effect of, inducing submission by actual or threatened adverse consequences;
  • Is related to one or more grounds of which discrimination is prohibited in section 6(1) of the Employment Equity Act.

“Harassment includes violence, physical abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse gender-based abuse and racial abuse. It includes the use of physical force or power, whether threatened or actual, against another person or against a group or community.”

Types of harassment

The code of practice includes several specific examples of harassment that could potentially be flagged in South African workplaces.

Some of these types of harassment are obvious – such as physical force, racist remarks or sexual advances – however, the code of practice also highlights a much wider range of indirect actions which can be seen as harassment such as gossip or making another employee the butt of a joke.

Some of the specific examples of harassment highlighted in the code include:

  • Slandering or maligning an employee or spreading rumours maliciously;
  • Conduct that humiliates, insults, or demeans an employee;
  • Withholding work-related information or supplying incorrect information;
  • Sabotaging or impeding the performance of work;
  • Ostracising, boycotting or excluding the employee from work or work-related activities;
  • Persecution such as threats, and the inspiration of fear and degradation;
  • Intolerance of psychological, medical, disability or personal circumstances;
  • Surveillance of an employee without their knowledge and with harmful intent;
  • Use of disciplinary or administrative sanctions without objective cause, explanation or efforts to problem-solving;
  • Demotion without justification;
  • Abuse or selective use of disciplinary hearings;
  • Pressuring an employee to engage in illegal activities or not to exercise legal rights;
  • Pressuring an employee to resign.

Passive-aggressive or covert harassment may include:

    • Negative gossip;
    • Negative joking at someone’s expense;
    • Sarcasm;
    • Condescending eye contact;
    • Facial expressions;
    • Gestures;
  • Mimicking to ridicule;
  • Deliberately causing embarrassment or insecurity; and
  • Deliberately sabotaging someone’s career performance.

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