Gender harrassment

Gender harassment is a behaviour or activity that is unwelcome to a person, which demeans a person’s dignity due to his/her sex. Gender harassment creates a disturbing, threatening, hostile, disparaging, demeaning or insulting atmosphere.

Such harassment is associated with prejudicial generalisations used in regard to one sex or the other, which have disparaging connotations. Gender harassment does not have sexual connotations. If the harassment is sexual, it is a case of sexual harassment.

It could also be a case of gender harassment when an employer or colleague, client or business partner makes comments based on stereotypical prejudices about women or men, or a specific female or male employee.

The concept of gender harassment is defined in Point 6 of Subsection 3 (1) of the Gender Equality Act .

Examples of gender harassment
What should I do if I’m a victim of harassment?
Proof
Opinion of the Commissioner

Examples of gender harrassment

  • a manager publicly ridicules female employees in the workplace, saying that they are incompetent due to their sex, or that they cannot be expected to think logically
  • an employer or colleague claims that men lack empathy
  • an employer allocates tasks based on gender stereotypes: making coffee and tidying up are expected from the female employees, and technical knowledge and skills are expected from all the male employees
  • a teacher at school denigrates female pupils by making comments  about them being intellectually inferior
  • teenage boys at school are the subject of denigrating comments about their height, weight, clumsiness, acne, etc.

As a rule, a certain behaviour becomes harassment if it is repeated. Harrassing behaviour, however, may also occur just once.

What should I do if I’m a victim of harassment?

The victim of harassment has a number of options in seeking help, one of which is applying to the Equality Commissioner who has the right to require information from all participating parties, and who can provide a legal opinion.

Proof

In cases of harassment the issue of proof is problematic. Victim statements, on their own, may be insufficient. This is why it is important that the victim take note of the incident by recording the date and time. If the incident happened to be witnessed by other persons, this should also be noted, just in case, since in such situations it is witness statements in particular that may prove to be vital evidence. It is also very important to keep letters, cards, emails, text messages, etc, sent by the harasser. If the harasser has used a telephone to make contact, a certified statement of incoming calls can be obtained, which would confirm that the harassment had taken place.

Since both short-term and long-term harassment may have a detrimental effect on the victim and there may be a need for medical or psychological assistance it is important to note and collect all documents that prove the medical expenses incurred due to the health problems caused by the harassment (medical certificates, receipts for medicines and medical services, cost of transport to consult doctors, etc). The victim may also suffer damages due to being forced to relocate, or the fact that the employee – due to the behaviour of the manager – has not been able to benefit from further training, business travel, he/she has missed promotion, etc. Additonal information and documentation are helpful in ascertaining harassment, and can assist in determining the extent of the possible violation of rights.

In addition to ascertaining harassment, the collection of proof is also necessary if the victim decides to take the case to the labour dispute committee or to the court, in order to claim compensation for material or moral damage.

Opinion of the Commissioner

Although the Opinion of the Commissioner is not legally binding, this does not mean that the Opinion lacks influence. The Opinion of the Commissioner on whether discrimination has or has not taken place is of assistance to the victim in taking further steps to protect his/her rights, and provides guidance to other bodies dealing with legal protection. The Opinion of the Commissioner therefore gives a person greater clarity, and confidence as to whether his/her suspicion of discrimination is justified, and whether there are sufficient grounds to apply to other institutions.
When the Commissioner has provided his/her Opinion, and considers that discrimination has taken place, the victim of the harassment, if he/she so wishes, can address those institutions that resolve discrimination disputes – i.e. the court, labour dispute committee and for conciliation procedures, the Chancellor of Justice. Discrimination disputes can be resolved in the labour dispute committee in cases where the harassment takes place in workplace relations.