Identifying workplace harassment 

There are many other forms of harassment that could be perpetrated at work. PHOTO | SHUTTESTOCK

What you need to know:

  • Being able to recognise and know what to do is one method of curbing the vice.
  • Remember that all forms of harassment, whether physical, sexual, psychological or verbal, are illegal.

Towards the end of 2019, a video went viral on social media and elicited anger among many Kenyans. In the video, a supervisor at a supermarket is seen slapping a cashier across the face several times before grabbing her by the hair and slapping her some more. 

He then goes around the desk and proceeds to drag and beat her until two other male staff hold him back. It was a normal working day, and this incident happened within the duo’s workplace.

When most people think of harassment, sexual assault is the first thing that comes to mind. However, there are many other forms of harassment that could be perpetrated at work. 

Being able to recognise and know what to do is one method of curbing the vice. Remember that all forms of harassment, whether physical, sexual, psychological or verbal, are illegal.

What are the common forms of harassment?

Verbal harassment

Demeaning remarks, offensive gestures, and unreasonable criticism are some variations of verbal abuse. 

Lydia Mukami, 29, left her accounting job abruptly in 2017. 

“I had had enough, I could not take it anymore,” she says. Her supervisor would use demeaning and abusive names on her, calling her silly, stupid and short. Also, he had a habit of attacking her based on her nationality. She is Kenyan, but her employer was not.

When Lydia shared this with her colleagues, they dismissed it as mere personal conflict. They said that she needed to understand her boss’s personality and find ways of coping with his behaviour if she wanted to remain employed. 

Psychological harassment

This is similar to verbal harassment and cannot be proven physically. Perpetrators of psychological harassment undermine their victims by making comments that affect their dignity and crash their self-esteem. 

It is covert, and involves exclusionary tactics such as taking credit for work done by others, making unreasonable demands, imposing impractical deadlines, persistently opposing others’ ideas, or asking them to constantly perform tasks that are outside their job description. 

For instance, you may be employed as a data entry clerk but whenever your boss’ children are going back to school, you are called upon to accompany them for shopping or escort them to the bus stop.

Digital harassment

This is a new form of harassment that is perpetrated online, and is just as detrimental as the other forms of harassment. In this case, the offender creates a pseudo account and uses it to bully others and make false allegations about them on various social media platforms. There have been multiple reports of individuals committing suicide as a result of cyber bullying.

Physical harassment

If a colleague routinely shoves or gives you a light kick that does not hurt, should you still consider this a harassment? Experts say that even when such incidents are not frequent or severe, you should not downplay them. As long as the touch or damage to your personal property was unwelcome, it counts as physical harassment.

Sexual harassment

This is the most common form of harassment in various work places globally. A survey recently released by ActionAid revealed widespread harassment of young women, with as many as three quarters (74 per cent) of Kenya’s young women reporting that they had faced sexual harassment. Further, according to a new study, young women aged between 14 and 21 are living in fear of unwanted sexual advances. But sexual harassment is not exclusive to women. Perpetrators can be male or female.

This type of harassment includes inappropriate jokes or touching, unwanted sexual advances, sharing pornography, sending distasteful messages or asking for sexual favours in exchange for a promotion or job security. While some explicitly harass their colleagues, others employ subtle methods such as mild banter, inoffensive comments which are riddled by sexual undertones or innocuous statements that castigate a particular gender or body type.

How should one deal with harassment at work? 

Report it

It is important to know that lack of physical evidence should not deter you from reporting or filing a complaint. In most organisations, the HR department is equipped to help employees in such situations. Before reporting the matter, you can approach the offender and ask them to desist from such behaviours. However, in the case of physical harassment, for your own safety, do not approach the perpetrator.

Thanks to technological advancement, you can now take screen shots or record calls then table them as evidence.

If you feel that your employer or the HR department has not handled your complaint satisfactorily, or when the perpetrator is your employer, you can report the case to the police for investigation. 

Keeping quiet about harassment only serves to encourage the offender. ​


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