Confidentiality key in dealing with harassment cases

Friday, September 2, 2022

The Department of Employment and Labour’s Deputy Director of Employment Equity Policy and Compliance, Niresh Singh, says that confidentiality is key in dealing with harassment cases.

“Employers and employees must ensure that grievances about harassment are investigated and handled in a manner that ensures that the identities of the persons involved are kept confidential to protect the confidentiality of all parties involved,” Singh said.

Singh was addressing the last Employment Equity roadshow for the KwaZulu-Natal Province on Thursday in Durban.

The roadshows are conducted jointly by the Department of Employment and Labour and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

He said that the confidentiality of harassment cases can be achieved by making sure that all internal and external communications related to an incident of harassment are treated as confidential.

“The exception is when the party who reported the incident publicises the matter, where the employer has only to prove that it has taken measures to make the names of the parties confidential,” he said.

Singh told the roadshow that the issue of confidentiality does not preclude an employer from taking appropriate steps to protect the safety or dignity of employees, either during the conduct of the investigation or subsequently.

He added that false allegations of harassment lead to the accused becoming the harassed. The reason being that the person’s dignity has been impaired.

Singh highlighted the fact that the employer’s harassment policy should specify the range of disciplinary sanctions that must be proportionate to the seriousness of the harassment in question.

He said the sanctions may include warnings which may be issued for minor instances of harassment and must describe the essence of the misconduct; dismissal which may ensue for continued minor instances of harassment after warnings, as well as for serious instances of harassment; and transferring the perpetrator which only happens in appropriate circumstances.

“All these sanctions or the internal processes do not in any way take away the complainant’s right to lay a criminal charge or institute civil proceedings against the alleged perpetrator,” he said.

The chairperson of the Commission for Employment Equity (CEE), Tabea Kabinde, said the current EE amendments, which will empower the Minister to regulate the sector-specific EE targets are envisaged to deal with employers and businesses that do not want to transform. –