Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 10th 2017 Contents 1. What is the definition of sexual harassment in the workplace?
Sexual harassment is the unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace, at an unwilling
victim to whom that misconduct is offensive, disturbing, upsetting, worrying and/or psychologically
harmful. Sexual harassment may be severe or pervasive enough to affect the person's ability to
cope in what may become an increasingly hostile work environment.
2. Who are victims of sexual harassment?
• Sexual harassment in the workplace refers to harassment when it occurs at work, at work
related events, amongst persons sharing the same workplace or between colleagues when
outside of work.
• Often we tend to think of sexual harassment in terms of a male boss-female subordinate
consequence. It can, however, be many variations and combinations.
• Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by male to female, female to male and between or
among individuals of the same sex. Sexual harassment may be directed towards a
particular person, persons or group. An employer, a supervisor, a fellow employee, or even
a client connected with the workplace can be a perpetrator.
• Bear in mind, that sexual harassment can also affect men, however, when it comes to the Caribbean
it affects women more so than men.
3. Different categories of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is characterised as being subtle and can take the form of physical, verbal, and/or
visual harassment. Examples of behaviour, which may constitute sexual harassment, includes but are
not limited to:
• Verbal behaviour, which is sexual in nature and unwelcomed, e.g., epithets, jokes, comments or
slurs, repeated requests for dates which are unsolicited.
• Nonverbal behaviour which is sexual in nature and unwelcomed, e.g., staring, leering, lewd gestures.
• Physical conduct which is sexual in nature and unwelcomed, e.g., assaults, sexual advances such
as touching, patting, or pinching, impeding or blocking, movement or any physical interference
with normal work or movement.
• Visuals which are sexual in nature and unwelcomed, e.g., posters or signs, letters, poems, graffiti,
faxes, cartoons or drawings, pictures, calendars, electronic mail and computer programs.
• Emerging forms involve using the workplace to send offensive images via telephone, electronic
mail, Instagram or Facebook etc.
4. Is there a profile for a typical harasser?
Perpetrators of sexual harassment are found in all types of occupations, at all organisational levels
repetitive pervades all ethnic and religious groups. Those who sexually harass are not distinguishable
from their colleagues who do not harass with respect to gender, age, marital status, rank, job title,
occupation or national origin.
5. If I ignore sexual harassment, will it stop?
Generally, simply ignoring sexual harassment will not stop it. Ignoring such behaviour may be taken as
a sign of encouragement or tacit consent. Many report that when they directly tell the harasser to stop,
the harassment often, but not always, ends. It is important to understand that sexual harassment
is abusive. It is not done in jest or "good fun"; rather, it is done to intimidate and hurt others. All
persons have a right to be treated professionally with respect, decency and consideration. Sexual
harassment is an expression of hostility and aggression. It is an abuse of power using sexual behaviour
as the vehicle and it is against the law.
6. Is there any recourse for victims of sexual harassment in Trinidad and Tobago?
• Although Trinidad and Tobago has not specifically legislated for sexual harassment, there are
several avenues for redress. The Industrial Court judgment in the matter of BIGWU versus Republic
Bank Limited clearly identified that sexual harassment is offensive and punishable behaviour in
the workplace and upheld the dismissal of an employee for inappropriate gestures and touching.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to
which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory, has classified sexual harassment in the workplace as a
form of gender discrimination. Trinidad and Tobago ratified this Convention in 1989 and so the
Government has a responsibility to create remedies and prevent its occurrence. Furthermore, the
Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago itself prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
• Most importantly, the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) provides the ideal avenue for redress.
The EOC is empowered to receive, investigate and conciliate complaints of discrimination in the
workplace for which sex/sexual harassment in the workplace is an explicit ground for protection.
This service bears no cost and if there is no resolution at conciliation it can be referred to the
Equal Opportunity Tribunal which has all the powers of the High Court to award damages,
reinstatement, injunctions etc.
• The EOC is available to assist:
1. through its public education programme which involves training workshops.
2. organisations in formulating guidelines and codes for their manual/policy on sexual harassment
in the workplace, emphasising the strengthening of remedies for victimisation.
7. Can anything be done about sexual harassment?
Many steps can be taken to prevent sexual harassment and to respond appropriately when it does
occur. Developing strong policies and effective procedures which are communicated to and under
stood by all employees are critical for prevention. Several large employers in Trinidad and Tobago in
the banking and conglomerate sector, the public sector and the energy sector have already enacted
codes to provide a channel for lodging complaints and seeking redress. A very clear message must be
sent to all employees that sexual harassment is not permissible and there is a "zero tolerance" policy
in the workplace. This should involve training and retraining ideally conducted by human resource
departments, which are usually well equipped to conduct training of this nature.
8. Why should prevention include putting a stop to unprofessional behaviour?
Unprofessional behaviour, leads to many problems including sexual harassment. If unprofessional
behaviour is ignored or allowed to flourish, it can easily get out of hand. While one off coloured remark
may not meet the legal definition of sexual harassment, it is rare that one remark comes alone. If
others, see that it is tolerated they may well assume that they too can participate in this type of
behaviour. One remark leads to another and soon the organisation is filled with sexual innuendos,
abuse or insults. The purpose of prevention is to stop the behaviour before it reaches this point.
9. What can employers and employees do?
• Every employee has the right to work in a safe environment free of discrimination, including
sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is unacceptable and should not be tolerated in the workplace.
It should be the policy of all employers to provide a workplace in which all individuals are treated
professionally with respect and dignity.
• Everyone should recognise that the elimination of sexual harassment in the workplace would create a
better work environment, increase productivity, and improve relationships amongst employees.
• Sexual harassment can incur high costs to both employer and employee. Employers are affected
by loss of productivity, diminished human resources, an increased employee turnover, high cost
of recruitment, risk of reputational damage and scandal, engagement of disciplinary resources
and a stressful work environment. Conversely, victims run the risk of jeopardising their own
employment through an unwillingness to go to work, frequent absenteeism and less job satisfaction.
They may experience psychological effects, isolation in the organisation and even risk victimisation.
• It is imperative for employers therefore to not only create policies that allow us all to feel safe at
work, but to uphold them and to specifically guard against victimisation of complainants.
10. What can I do to prevent sexual harassment in my workplace?
• Read and understand your organisation's Sexual Harassment Policy, if one exists. If one does not
exist clamour for one.
• Understand what behaviour constitutes sexual harassment.
• Conduct ongoing education for your employees about what is sexual harassment and ensure that
they understand the sexual harassment policy and how to report sexual harassment.
• Monitor the conduct and environment of the workplace.
• Encourage dialogue regarding the work environment, including problems regarding sexual harassment.
• Let your employees know that you will not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace and
demonstrate your commitment to "zero-tolerance" by taking immediate action, when appropriate.
• Post the sexual harassment policy in a prominent place, distribute the policy to all employees, and
suggest discussing in a staff meeting.
• Be both neutral and objective during an investigation of an incident.
• During the investigation of a complaint and possible subsequent discipline of the perpetrator,
co-workers may feel anger or threatened by the complainant and his or her supporters. Stop
rumours and offensive actions by co-workers immediately if an incident occurs. It is important to
demonstrate that this type of activity will not be tolerated.
• If tension between co-workers is a problem, consider having a workshop on team building or
communication (not, however, about a particular incident!).
11. What is the Procedure for making a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission?
Complaints can be made to the EOC online via our website www.equalopportunity.gov.tt or by visiting
our offices centrally located at 55-57 Manic Street, Chaguanas. The complaint will be investigated by
an Investigating Officer and the Employer can be compelled to respond on the pain of criminal prosecution.
Once the investigation is completed, the matter is forwarded to the Conciliation Unit which facilitates
the parties to reach an agreement. If no agreement is reached, the complainant has the option to
request the matter be referred to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal where one can have the matter heard
and adjudicated by a Judge.
12. Tips to Prepare your Complaint
It is important for the person experiencing sexual harassment to
• Document incidents and unwanted behaviour as they occur by noting: -
* What happened,
* Where and when it happened,
* Who witnessed it (if anyone),
* How your physical condition has changed as a result of this behaviour (i.e., sleeplessness,
crying bouts, weight loss/gain, etc.), and
* What, if anything, you did about it at the time and thereafter.
* Lodge complaints early and place all complaints in writing.
* Secure, where possible the cooperation of other persons who have witnessed the harassment.
* Seek extended support.
* Share with colleagues as it happens.
Document, document, document: The importance of this employer's responsibility cannot be
overemphasised. You should document your conversations with the parties involved in the complaint,
keep any evidence of harassment and make this evidence available to investigators, and document
what actions you took to resolve the harassment situation, if any. Document what you witness, what
you did, what you said and who witnessed any conversations or behaviour. If you are ever called upon
later to defend your actions, it is important that you can demonstrate you took appropriate action.
Also, encourage the complainant to document all incidents of harassment and to make those records
available to investigators. With any incident of sexual harassment, it is important to document the
behaviour by noting:
• what happened,
• where and when it happened,
• who witnessed it (if anyone),
• how your physical condition has changed as a result of this behaviour (i.e., sleeplessness, crying
bouts, weight loss/gain, etc.), and
• what, if anything, you did about it at the time and thereafter.
Mrs. Lynette Seebaran-Suite,
Chairman, Equal Opportunity Commission
About the EOC
• The primary task of the EOC is to oversee implementation of the Equal Opportunity Act Chapter
22:03, which prohibits certain kinds of discrimination and seeks to promote equal opportunity
between persons of different status.
• The Act is concerned with discrimination in four broad categories - employment, education, provision
of goods and services, and provision of accommodation - where someone has suffered
less-favourable treatment because of their:
* status, that is, because of one of the following personal characteristics: race, ethnicity,
religion, sex, marital status, origin or disability;
* Or by way of victimisation, that is, in retaliation for doing certain actions that are protected
under the Act, for example, lodging a complaint with the Commission or giving evidence in
support of someone who has lodged a complaint.
• A person who believes that they have been subjected to discrimination in any of the above areas
may lodge a complaint with the EOC. The EOC is mandated to receive, investigate and as far as
possible conciliate complaints.
• If the matter is unresolved, the complaint can be referred to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal (the
'EOT'). The EOT is a superior court of record, and its mandate is to hear and adjudicate on matters
referred to it by the EOC. The EOT has the power to make orders, declarations and awards of
compensation as it determines to be appropriate.
The EOC would urge all persons to be mindful of these provisions and to refrain from discriminatory
practices which infringe the human rights of others.
For more information, please visit www.equalopportunity.gov.tt.
Ria Mohammed-Pollard (Mrs.)
Manager, Corporate Communications
Equal Opportunity Commission
55-57 Manic Street
Ext: 231 Mobile: (868) 388-1187
Fax: (868) 671-8826
9 March, 2017
The EOC and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Did You Know? Sexual Harassment is a form of Sex Discrimination and the EOC is an avenue for making a complaint.
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
55-57 Manic Street, Chaguanas, 500621, Trinidad and Tobago, W.I
Phone: (868) 672-0928 • Fax: (868) 671-8826 • E-mail: eoc@ gov.tt • Website: www.equalopportunity.gov.tt
COMMISSIONERS: Mrs Lynette Seebaran-Suite (Chairman)
Dr. Beverly Ann Marie Beckles (Vice Chairman • Dr. Indira Rampersad
Mr. Eric Colin Cowie • Mr. James Chin Chuck
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