Almost all of us belong to some kind of WhatsApp or other group chat for work purposes. However, cyber sexual harassment in the new world of work is becoming an increasing threat, says Phetheni Nkuna of Cliffe Decker Hoffmeyer.
Group and individual chats may become an uncomfortable – and litigious – place.
Inappropriate messages sent between employees include:
- Repeatedly texting a co-worker to ask them out
- Making fun of a person (body shaming) in a group email or WhatsApp group chat
- Posting or sending a sexually offensive meme to a workplace collaboration app (Slack, Google Hangouts), WhatsApp, Teams, Zoom or email
- Posting or sending a lewd and/or sexually offensive GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)
- Sharing personally identifying information about someone, either to embarrass/humiliate them, or cause them to fear for their safety, with sexual undertones
- Quid pro quo sexual harassment – sex for jobs, benefits or some other benefit.
Employers are liable
Nkuna said that sexual harassment is covered by a number of pieces of legislation in South Africa, including section 6 of the Employment Equity Act which defines sexual harassment as a form of discrimination.
- Take all reasonable and practical steps to ensure that employees do not commit any act of sexual harassment
- Provide safe and healthy working environment. Confirmed in J v M Ltd  10 ILJ 755 (IC) that employers have a duty to ensure that employees are not subject to any form of sexual harassment
- Beware that employees may sue an employer as a result of allegations that the employer did not deal with sexual harassment complaints in a proper fashion