Lawyer: Document issues of sexual harassment

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

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LEGAL officer in the Ministry Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport Georgette Grant is encouraging victims of sexual harassment to “document” each incident as evidence that could prove useful in the event of a tribunal.

Grant was speaking at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue head office in St Andrew.

“Documentation is key,” Grant advised while addressing editors and reporters.

“Once a person believes, feels that they are being sexually harassed, documentation is important,” she stressed.

The attorney, who is a part of a team from the ministry working on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Bill, pointed out that, in a case where there are no witnesses to the offence, evidence gathered and dated would bolster a complaint.

She noted also that this is particularly important for small companies, for example, where bosses or supervisors are oftentimes the aggressors.

The lawyer pointed to a provision in the Bill, now before Parliament, where the aggrieved person is permitted to go directly to the tribunal once they can show that making a complaint to administrators within the organisation would be prejudicial.

Section 25 subsection (4) of the Bill outlines that the tribunal may grant leave to a person to make a complaint to the tribunal in the circumstances set out in subsection (5).

Subsection (5) (a) stipulates that the victim can file a complaint with the tribunal if the person has “shown cause as to why the person reasonably believes that the person's rights may be prejudiced if the person were to comply with subsection (3)”.

That subsection indicates that the complainant must exhaust internal mechanisms and procedures available to them before going to a tribunal.

Additionally, subsection (5) (b) specifies that the aggrieved worker can file a complaint with the tribunal if the person has “provided evidence to show that no internal mechanisms and procedures, or no adequate internal mechanisms and procedures have been made available to the person as required under section 4 (3) (d).

The latter notes that internal mechanisms and procedures must be made available to workers, including a clear definition of sexual harassment and a statement declaring that, for example, workers are entitled to an environment that is free of sexual harassment.

Attorney Kwame Gordon, at the same time, noted that the direction in which the law is moving is to treat sexual harassment as a zero-tolerance offence.

“That is the general direction in which the law is moving, and that is what we are realising, especially since Caribbean countries have gone a little bit ahead of us in terms of their legislation. They started to move before legislation in that direction [and] they are taking a zero-tolerance approach,” Gordon stated.

The lawyer noted that “the ILO (International Labour Organization) recommends it and the various ministries that are responsible for labour supported that approach. So, at the end of the day, even if there is nothing in writing, an employer still has an obligation in my view to engage a process.”

Consultations on the legal treatment of sexual harassment began in the House of Representatives last Thursday, under the chairmanship of Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange.


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