How to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace | Western Cape Government

How to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace


What is sexual harassment?

The code of good practice on handling sexual harassment in the workplace, 2015 (“the Code”) defined sexual harassment as:

"...any unwanted conduct, which is sexual in nature, and can be physical, verbal or non-verbal. The conduct must affect the dignity of the person affected or create a negative or hostile environment. Sexual harassment is relevant in a workplace if granting sexual favours becomes a condition of employment, or refusal to do so affects employment decisions, or if it unreasonably affects the employees' work or creates a hostile environment." 

Forms of sexual harassment and sexual favouritism 

1) Sexual harassment may include unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct, but isn’t limited to: A boss standing and putting his hand on secretary's arm while she looks at his hand.

  • Physical conduct of a sexual nature that includes all unwanted physical contact,
    • ranging from touching,
    • to sexual assault and rape, and
    • includes a strip search by or in the presence of the opposite sex.
  • Verbal forms of sexual harassment that includes;
    • unwelcome insinuations,
    • suggestions and hints,
    • sexual advances,
    • comments with sexual overtones,
    • sex-related jokes or insults,
    • or unwelcome graphic comments about a person's body made in their presence or directed toward them,
    • unwelcome and inappropriate enquiries about a person's sex life, and
    • unwelcome whistling directed at a person or group of persons.
  • Non-verbal forms of sexual harassment including;
    • unwelcome gestures,
    • indecent exposure, and
    • the unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects.
  • Quid pro quo harassment occurs where an owner, employer, supervisor, member of management or co-employee, undertakes or attempts to influence the process of employment, promotion, training, discipline, dismissal, salary increase or other benefits of an employee or job applicant, in exchange for sexual favours.

2) Sexual favouritism exists where a person who is in a position of authority rewards only those who respond to his/her sexual advances, whilst other deserving employees who don’t submit themselves to any sexual advances are denied promotions, merit rating or salary increases.

If you are aware of sexual harassment incidents at your workplace, you can play a major role by:

  • bringing the seriousness of harassment to the attention of management or your human resources (HR) unit,
  • helping to formulate and implement appropriate policies, and
  • helping victims deal with the consequences of harassment.
The content on this page was last updated on 12 February 2020