Workplace Harassment: An Overview
By Barr. Nneoma .G. Ogbah
Recent study has shown that the increase in workplace harassment and hostility are due to the following reasons:
- Lack of policies by organizations to curb workplace harassment and hostility.
- Absence of an ombudsman to protect the workforce.
- Difficulties in proving what amounts to a hostile environment.
- Lack of employment opportunities in the country.
DEFINITION OF WORKPLACE HARASSMENT:
Workplace harassment can be said to be any physical or verbal harassment that makes a reasonable person feel uncomfortable, humiliated or mentally distressed. The definition provided by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention, No.190 cannot be left out in this Article. According to the above convention, violence and harassment is identified as violations directed at persons because of their sex and gender, or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender in a way that is not proportionate.
Another point worthy of note is a “hostile work environment”. A hostile environment can be said to be an environment/ workplace where comments or behaviors affect a worker’s performance or create an unfriendly work environment for the person being harassed. A hostile environment can also be created when employees are derogatorily being spoken to.
There are however, situations where both concepts exists. In cases like this, the employee suffers the most. This is because, such working environment has the tendency to make life at work very frustrating and miserable for the employee(s) and can also result to a continuous reduction in the productivity of the employee. Workplace harassment can come in various forms, namely; physically, in writing or visually. However, the most occurring form of workplace harassment experienced daily is workplace violence or sexual harassment, which can be categorized under “physical workplace harassment”.
According to the Criminal Law of Lagos State, harassment is any unwelcomed sexual advances, request for sexual favours, and other visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which when submitted to or rejected implicitly or explicitly affects a person’s employment or unreasonably interferes with the person’s work. See Section 262(2) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011. In the same vein, Section 45 of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, 2015 defines sexual harassment as an unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or other conduct based on sex or gender, which is persistent, serious and demeans, humiliates or creates a hostile or intimidating environment, and this may include physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct.
It is heartbreaking however, to state that most persons who work in very toxic offices have stayed back , despite what they go through. The reason for this isn’t far fetched. The lack of employment in the country or work with little or no pay has actually contributed to 95% of the reason for this. Most employers knowing the state of the country however, will treat their employees in any manner they so choose, since the latter has no option/choice. Secondly, the gap in our Labour Law as well as the nonchalance and inefficiency of our courts has also played its own part in this case. How is it possible that a whole Labour Act makes no provision for the prohibition of sexual harassment? This sounds very irritating to the ear and should serve as a wake up call to the Lawmakers in Nigeria. Every worker in Nigeria, no matter how small, tiny or young deserves every and all kind of protection at their various workplaces. The fact that most of the employers guilty of these harassments are our politicians is another point that should be looked into. These employers do what they do and carry out various kinds of amorous acts on employees knowing that little or nothing can be done to them. Most workplaces with toxic traits can be spotted with the following characteristics:
- No offer letter or contract of employment.
- No specific job description.
- Improperly drafted offer letter/ contract of employment.
- Unstructured compensation
- Lack of violence/harassment policy
A toxic work environment can cause one so much mental stress and real health issues and this is the major reason why the Government needs to look into this issue.
LAWS REGULATING WORKPLACE HARASSMENT IN NIGERIA:
Although the Labour Act has failed in making provisions for the protection of workers from workplace violence and sexual harassment, some Nigerian Laws have tried to come to the rescue of victims. These laws include:
- Employee Compensation Act : this Act provides for compensation in the case of mental stress to a worker if the mental stress is an acute reaction to a sudden and unexpected traumatic event arising out of or in the course of the employee’s employment or diagnosed by an accredited medical practitioner as a mental or physical condition amounting to mental stress arising out of the nature of work or the occurrence of any event in the course of the employee’s employment. A victim of workplace harassment can however claim compensation under this provision. See Section 9 of the Employees Compensation Act, 2010.
- THE 1999 CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA: Section 34
of the 1999 CFRN makes provision for the dignity of persons. By virtue of the said section, “every Nigerian individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly, (a) no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhumane or degrading treatment. (b) no person shall be held in slavery or servitude; and (c) no person shall be required to performed forced or compulsory labour.”
- THE NIGERIAN CRIMINAL CODE ACT: This law provides for assault on persons. Section 351 of the Act states that “Any person who unlawfully assaults another is guilty of misdemeanor, and is liable, if no greater punishment is provided, to imprisonment for one year. Section 352 further provides for Assault with intent to commit unnatural offence. It states thus; “ Any person who assaults another with intent to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for 14 years.” See also S.360 and S.353. The offender must be arrested with a warrant.
COURT(S) WITH JURISDICTION IN NIGERIA:
In Nigeria, the court with exclusive jurisdiction in matters relating to or connected with labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from the workplace is the National Industrial Court. See specifically Order 14 of the National Industrial Court Civil Procedure Rules, 2017 on sexual harassment. This provision also recognizes sexual harassment as an offence for which a person can bring a claim to the court.
KNOWING WHEN TO LEAVE A TOXIC WORKPLACE/ ENVIRONMENT:
According to Mary Abbajay, author of “Managing up” and president of Career Stone Group, while working in a toxic environment, you should ask yourself certain questions and if the answer to any or all of these questions are in the affirmative, then you shouldn’t hesitate to leave that workplace. These questions include:
- Are you spending more time worried about your boss than about actually doing and performing well in your job?
- Do you feel nervous about some interactions with your boss?
- Do you feel demeaned or devalued by your boss?
- Do you find yourself trying to hide from your boss or reduce interactions with him or her?
- Do you dread going to work everyday?
- Are you bringing your boss’s negativity and toxicity home everyday?
- Are you making the people you live with miserable because of it?
P.S: always have it at the back of your mind that your health, whether emotional or mental matters more than every other thing in this life. Nothing is worth taking or reducing your happiness, not even the tip you’re offered at your so called workplace. If it gets to a point where you can no longer deal, please leave. They people around you do not have to suffer the transfer of aggression or frustration.
In curtailing workplace harassment of any form, it is advised that an anti-harassment policy be put in place to checkmate work environment. There should be policies, rules and regulations spelt out on any sort of harassment in every work organization, no matter how small such organization seems to be. A mode of reporting, whereby those reporting ( both the observant and experiencing employees) are kept anonymous should be created.
The Government on their own part should set up an organization or panel for the investigation of complaints by private persons against the government (ombudsman). In addition to that, laws regulating workplace harassment specifically should be put in place and the National Industrial court should regard workplace harassment matters as very serious issues when brought before it. Justice as the saying goes should not only be said to be done, it should be seen as DONE!!
Barr. Nneoma Grace Ogbah
Legal officer, DITOIL Energy ltd.
Phone no: 08119690931, 08106472510
This work is published under the free legal awareness project of Sabi Law Foundation (www.SabiLaw.org) funded by the law firm of Bezaleel Chambers International (www.BezaleelChambers.com). The writer was not paid or charged any publishing fee. You too can support the legal awareness projects and programs of Sabi Law Foundation by donating to us. Donate here and get our unique appreciation certificate or memento.
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