The Caswell Franklyn Column – Sexual Harassment Law is Dangerously Flawed

Caswell Franklyn, Head of Unity Workers Union

In my last column on the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill – The Caswell Franklyn Column – Sexual Harassment Legislation to Attract Votes NOT to Protect Vulnerable Workers, I endorsed the need for such legislation but was critical of the end result. However, after taking note of all the positive reviews, I must admit that I was having second thoughts, so much so that I went and re-read the document. I am now convinced that those who gave the bill a passing grade and I must have read different bills.

According to the Barbados Today of October 26, 2017 the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) was one of the organizations that was supportive of the legislation. Its general secretary declared that after 20 odd years of lobbying government, public servants “can breathe a sigh of relief that there is some level of protection and assurance that the public service would be free from the scourge of uncircumcised Philistines pouncing on employees….”

I was confounded by that position since, in the dying days of the Arthur Administration, Government introduced legislation that made sexual harassment an offence punishable by dismissal. The Second Schedule to the Public Service Act, The Code of Conduct and Ethics, at paragraph 22.(1) states:

“Engaging in any activity that amounts to sexual harassment is a breach of this Code which renders an officer liable to dismissal.”

I will leave readers to draw their own conclusions in respect of NUPW thanking the Minister of Labour for putting in place a law for public officers that was already in force for 10 years.

It is my view that the pressing need to have legislation against sexual harassment of workers, in the private sector and statutory boards, has clouded the minds of proponents who were lobbying for years. It would seem that they are saying bad legislation is better than no legislation. I maintain that such legislation is highly desirable but this act merely gives the illusion of protection. It is dangerously flawed and can end up hurting those that it is intended to protect.

I have already pointed out that a victim, who was unable to prove his/her case, could end up paying a fine of $10,000 plus spending two years in jail for making a false complaint. In addition, section 6 has created a situation where employees, who had been overlooked for promotion, could complain and then find themselves facing a law suit for defamation of character. Section 6.(1) states:

6.(1) Where an employer grants employment opportunities or benefits as a result of

(a) an employee’s agreement to grant sexual favours to the employer; or

(b) an employee’s agreement to grant sexual favours to a client or an employee’s supervisor,

an aggrieved employee who was denied an employment opportunity or benefit may lodge a complaint with the Chief Labour Officer and the Chief Labour Officer may take such action as he thinks necessary under section 12 to resolve the matter.

When I was a young man sexual relations between two adults were generally secret. Does it still operate like that and if so, how would a third party know that an employer and employee made a quid pro quo arrangement that would disadvantage the third party. Nowadays, are such arrangements sent around by circular or posted on notice boards? What is the standard of proof the act would require, in the event that both parties deny that there was any agreement to grant sexual favours or any sexual contact at all?

There is one aspect that the drafters of this act need to explain. Section 4 requires every employer in Barbados to have a clear written policy statement against sexual harassment. Failing to do so, the employer is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term of 12 months or to both. Mind you, no one has articulated the practical benefits of having such a policy.

As far as I can see the major beneficiaries of the act in its current form would be underemployed industrial relations consultants, who would be engaged to draft these mandatory but unnecessary policy statements.

The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Sexual Harassment: The Myth and the Reality

As the public discourse on sexual harassment, in light of the ongoing Parliamentary debate on the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill, assumes pride of place locally and in the US, where the contemporary revelations of the seemingly unending past misdeeds of Mr. Harvey Weinstein proliferate on the news media, there appears to be much in this discussion that betrays a popular misperception of the nature of the “beast” with which the proposed legislation seeks to contend. This exists mainly in the form of myth, caused in part by the assumption that everyone knows precisely what is sexual harassment because he or she has heard the concept mentioned somewhere, in much the same way that some Barbadians are wont to refer to an individual as his or her “friend”, simply because they have seen that individual’s photograph at one time or another in a newspaper.

In this week’s essay, I propose to examine some of the mythology (old men’s tales) surrounding sexual harassment in light of the provisions of the Bill in its present form.

  • That sexual harassment needs to be continuous to be remediable

Continuity is not an indispensable aspect of sexual harassment. Even though the word “harassment” does connote a serial pattern of behaviour, there may be a single act so egregious that non-consent to it by the victim may be presumed. Obeying President Trump’s advice for dealing with married women by grabbing [or as local parlance would have it, “grabbling”] them by their pudenda would constitute an act of sexual harassment even in the absence of its repetition, since it may be assumed that such conduct would not ordinarily be consented to. Indeed, the Bill recognizes this where it provides in Clause 3(2), after listing in sub-clause (1) acts that are included in the definition of sexual harassment, among them, “the initiation of unwanted physical contact with a person”, that “nothing in…(1) shall be interpreted as precluding a finding of sexual harassment where there is a single incident…” Of course, in circumstances where an act is not immediately unacceptable on its face, a repetition will constitute sexual harassment only if it has been made clear by the recipient that such an overture is unwelcome.

  • That there is an element of contributory fault in sexual harassment

The fact that a female may be scantily clad or is wearing revealing clothing does not afford justification for the actions of the harasser. There is no provision in the Bill for the inappropriateness or existence of the harassment to be reduced if it is argued that the victim induced it by her manner of dress or by the display of her physical assets.

  • That sexual harassment needs to be directed to the victim

In fact and in law, sexual harassment may be present by the creation of an objectively hostile environment that is not directed to the complainant solely. According to clause 3 (1)(a), [For the purposes of this Act, sexual harassment includes] the use of sexually suggestive words, comments, jokes, gestures or actions that annoy, alarm or abuse a person…

Given that “a person” is used here in a generic sense in that sub-clause, it should suffice that someone is alarmed or annoyed by the alleged conduct, whether it was aimed at that individual or not. Moreover, sub-clause (e) which lists “transmitting sexually offensive writing or material of any kind” appears to be of a similar general nature as well, although this, to my mind, would appear to be too broadly drafted in its present form and would capture the transmission of material between two consenting parties that is stumbled upon by an unsuspecting individual. Any redraft should indicate clearly that this sub-clause relates solely to the uninvited transmission of such material to an individual.

Too besides, in this connection, it may also be considered sexual harassment where an employer grants employment benefits to an employee as a result of that employee’s agreement to grant sexual favours to the employer, to a client or to his or her supervisor to the disbenefit of an employee who did not likewise agree. The aggrieved employee would have been sexually harassed here, even though the Bill does not seem to require the benefit granted and denied be the identical one in each case.

  • That sexual harassment is gender-neutral

In keeping with the modern trend, the Bill, as drafted, is gender-neutral, a fact that surprisingly has drawn no negative comment from those quarters that protested a similar treatment for the recent amendment to the Domestic Violence Act. Of course, it is eminently possible that sexual harassment may occur between those of the same gender but the larger truth, according to the Journal of the American Psychological Association, is that “99% of sexual harassment victims are female”. To equate the two forms conceptually is thus to close one’s eyes to the reality and to confound the possible with the distinctly probable.

  • That sexual harassment occurs mainly in the workplace

Given its nature, sexual harassment may occur in any context where one party perceives the opportunity to trade a benefit desired by another for sexual favours. Barbados has chosen for now to restrict its prevention efforts to the workplace environment, unlike Belize which, in its Protection against Sexual Harassment Act 1996, also restricts sexual harassment in educational and other institutions that are workplaces in part, but are also environments where encounters between genders of different levels of influence proliferate and are thus ripe with the probability of quid pro quo harassment. Further, there is also restriction in the Belize Act in the context of the rental of accommodation. According to one local parliamentarian, it is expected that the current Bill, when proclaimed into law, will conduce to a culture of anti-sexual harassment conduct everywhere in Barbados.

  • That the legislation will preclude social intercourse between males and females in the workplace

This is most assuredly not a necessary consequence of the legislation. Normal workplace relations may still subsist; it is simply that these should be attended with a modicum of respect for the individual and for their sensibilities. Ordinary by-play between male and female workers may continue without either being overly obnoxious or crude. In any event, a compliment on another individual’s appearance or even an expression of one’s secret desire towards him or her does by itself not constitute sexual harassment unless it is either knowingly unwelcome or, as stated earlier, so crude as to be presumed repugnant to any given individual.

  • That the legislation will create additional imposition on the employer

This is to catch at straws. Even in the absence of legislation, the employer has an obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure a safe system of working for the individual employee. This would include, on the part of the employer, the ensuring of an environment free of sexual harassment and of its condign censure once established. As has been stated, “If an employer knows that acts being done by employees during their employment may cause physical or mental harm to a particular fellow employee and he does nothing to supervise or to prevent such acts, when it is his power to do so, it is clearly arguable that he may be in breach of his duty to that employee…” The sole new imposition on the employer will be to devise the policy statement stipulated under Clause 4 of the Bill and assistance is provided in that regard by the Bill itself.

The Caswell Franklyn Column – Sexual Harassment Legislation to Attract Votes NOT to Protect Vulnerable Workers

Caswell Franklyn, Head of Unity Workers Union

As far back as October 5, 1995 the Nation newspaper published a letter from me, asking the Government to introduce laws against sexual harassment in the workplace. It therefore came as welcomed news when I heard that debate on the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill had begun in the Senate.

I have always had a personal abhorrence to such behaviour since I would not have wanted any of my eight sisters to suffer through that abuse. Also, my devilish good looks made me a magnet for predators, male and female. Mind you, I am particularly proud of myself and can say that I had the strength to rebuff each and every one of the unwanted advances.

The legislation was long in coming but after all this time, I still have a keen interest in the subject, notwithstanding that one of my sisters is of blessed memory and the others are retired or approaching such. For myself, even though I still get the odd glance, I no longer fill the eyes of the sexual harasser. However, my graduation from the pool of potential victims has not diminished my passion to see adequate statutory protection put in place for victims.

Before reading the bill, I was happy because my desire for this type of legislation had finally come to fruition. I thought that the protection that I did not have, would be available to protect my grandchildren. Sadly, after going through the document, I am deflated. The legislation seems to be poorly thought out and appears to be a rush job to fill some kind of quota for elections.

At clause 32, the bill says, “This Act binds the Crown”. Ordinarily, I would have no difficulty with that provision but it forces me to question Government’s commitment to protecting its workers from sexual harassment. Since December 31, 2007 sexual harassment became an offence that merited dismissal, in accordance with paragraphs 22 and 27 of the Code of Conduct and Ethics. To date, Government has not put any procedures in place for its workers in ten years.

On behalf of one of our members, my union made a complaint of sexual harassment against a male officer, who was acting in one of the most senior post in the Public Service. The evidence against him was incontrovertible; he had reduced his lust to no fewer than 20 amorous hand-written notes. As his punishment, he was given a lateral transfer to another ministry. That should give some idea how seriously sexual harassment is viewed at the highest level.

This legislation is yet another example of how this administration staunchly refuses to lead by example. Rather than put regulations in place to mandate a process to guide employers, this bill requires each and every employer in Barbados to publish a policy statement against sexual harassment within the workplaces. According to the wording of the bill, this provision could apply to an employer with only one employee.

Failure to publish the statement within six months of the commencement of the act is a criminal offence and the employer would be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5,000 or to imprisonment for 12 months or to both. This is certainly one way for Government to collect much needed revenue, without imposing another tax. Since this measure also applies to the Public Service, would we be seeing permanent secretaries and heads of department being hauled of to Dodds Prison, if they fail to meet the deadline.

To my mind, the most troubling aspect of this bill is clause 28. It states:

A person who makes a false complaint of sexual harassment against another person is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term of 2 years or to both.

Let’s say that a young lady made a complaint of sexual harassment against her boss, who had actually committed the offence. Nonetheless, she was unable to provide enough evidence to satisfy the tribunal. Would she be liable to pay a fine and or be imprisoned for making a false complaint? I sincerely hope that I have misinterpreted this clause, since it can serve as a major deterrent to persons making sexual harassment complaints.

My advice is that Government should go back to the drawing board and do it right next time.