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Harassment in the Workplace


I am receiving increasing number of e-mails from employees, complaining about their treatment in the workplace.  Some employees complain of rudeness from superiors, or their managers or directors swearing at them, reprimanding them in an abusive manner in the presence of other employees, and in some cases even physical abuse such as slapping or pushing.

Obviously, I must accept the allegations made in these e-mails by employees against the employers as fact, because I have nothing to prove otherwise. It usually seems to arise when an employer wishes to get rid of a particular employee, but does not wish to follow proper procedure – the aggressive and harassing behaviour is resorted to in the hopes that the employee will resign.
Harassment in the workplace is not confined only to sexual harassment, but can take many other forms.

Some examples, as described in the CCMA information sheet “Harassment” ( © CCMA) are:

  • Bullying
  • spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone, particularly on gender, race or disability grounds;
  • ridiculing or degrading someone, picking on them or setting them up to fail;
  • exclusion or victimisation;
  • unfair treatment, for example, based on race, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, disability, religion, HIV status, etc;
  • overbearing supervision or other misuses of power or position;
  • unwelcome sexual advances;
  • making threats/comments about job security without foundation;
  • deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism;
  • preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities.

Every employee has the right to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace, and employees do not have to tolerate harassment by employers.
The CCMA states that employers have a duty to protect workers from harassment, and employers should develop a code of conduct on harassment in consultation with the employees and employee representatives.


Harassment is in fact classed as an unfair discrimination and only results in a violation of human rights, poor morale among employees, causes unexplained absenteeism, late coming and poor concentration at work. It is the cause of loss of productivity, and a major cause of workers resigning.


When employees are unfairly discriminated against in this way, it is advisable that the employee should first confront the harasser directly, in the presence of a witness, and request the harasser to cease the harassment immediately.
Employees also have available to them the normal grievance procedures, or they can turn to their union or employees association for assistance. Once the case has been reported, the employer is obliged to investigate the case and if necessary disciplinary action must be taken against the harasser. Any matters that cannot be resolved at employer level can be referred to the CCMA for conciliation and if a resolution is not reached by that process, then the matter will be referred to the Labour Court.
Harassment, because it constitutes unfair discrimination, falls within the jurisdiction of the Employment Equity Act. Acknowledgement is made for the information contained in CCMA information sheet “Harassment” for the information contained in this article.  CCMA information sheets can be downloaded from the CCMA web site

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