Discrimination in the workplace

Nov 6, 2023 | News

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HR Hangout-Discrimination in the workplace

In this edition Karabo Makgato shares insight on discrimination in the workplace, this is based on the presentation that was made by Lizelle Wessels to SANAC staff recently, Ms Wessels is an Attorney, Commissioner, Facilitator and Mediator with over 17 years’ experience, and specialises in the field of Employment and Industrial Relations, with background in the CCMA, Bargaining Councils, and the Labour Court.

According to Ms Wessels, Discrimination in the Workplace occurs when an Employer treats, or differentiates against, an employee(s), or shows bias, favour, or prejudice against an employee(s) on a prohibited ground in line with section 6(1) of the Employment Equity Act, 1998.  Discrimination in the workplace can occur on the basis of one’s Race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, family responsibility, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, HIV status, conscience, belief, political opinion, culture, language, birth or on any arbitrary ground.

Discrimination in the workplace involves:

  • Unfair treatment because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (age 40 or older), or genetic information.
  • Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in your workplace, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age, genetic information, etc.
  • Denial of a reasonable workplace change that you need because of your religious beliefs or disability.
  • Improper questions about or disclosure of your genetic information or medical information.
  • Retaliation because you complained about job discrimination or assisted with a job discrimination proceeding, such as an investigation or lawsuit.

Discrimination in the workplace is broad, to do justice to this piece we will only focus on Harassment and its many forms in the workplace.    Harassment” is conduct generally understood to be unwanted conduct, which impairs dignity, hostile and intimidating work environment for one or more Employees, including submission by actual, or threatened adverse consequences, and discriminates in line with section 6(1) of the EEA.  Ms Wessles states that Harassment includes violence, physical abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, gender-based abuse and racial abuse. It includes the use of physical force or power, whether threatened or actual, against another person or group or community.

Types of Harassment that are more prominent in the Workplace:

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment – both men and women can experience sexual harassment in the work environment; however, women are disproportionately affected.  If not dealt with effectively, sexual harassment does not only risk reputational damage to the company, but the loss of valuable workforce and talent (victims may resign). Due to its sensitive nature, victims are often too embarrassed or, in some cases, scared to report instances of sexual harassment.

  • Sexual Harassment of an employee is the most widely experienced and reported and is a form of unfair discrimination and is prohibited on the grounds of sex, gender, and or sexual orientation. Same-sex harassment can amount to discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, and or sexual orientation and gender-based harassment.
  • It may be offensive to the Complainant, can make the Complainant to feel uncomfortable, or cause harm or inspire the reasonable belief that the Complainant may be harmed.

Examples of sexual harassment

  • Inappropriate touching
  • Unwelcome sexual jokes
  • Unwanted questions about your sex life
  • Rude gestures
  • Being stared at in an offensive way
  • A superior asking his/her subordinate for sexual favours in exchange for a promotion, raise or special treatment

Racial Harassment

Racial Harassment is an identified form of Discrimination in line with section 6(1) of the Employment Equity Act, 55 of 1998 as amended. Racist conduct, including derogatory language, is contrary to the founding principles of the Constitution.

  • Racial Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct which can be persistent or a single incident, that is harmful, demeaning, humiliating, or creates a hostile and intimidation working environment.
  • This form of harassment is conduct that can induce submission, by actual or threatened adverse consequences.

Examples of Racial Harassment

  • Abusive language, racist jokes, cartoons, or memes, including communication that amount to hate speech.
  • Racially offensive written or visual material, including online harassment.
  • Racist name-calling, or negative stereotyping, impacting on persons’ dignity.
  • Offensive behaviour to the form of open hostility to persons of a specific racial or ethnic group
  • Subtle or blatant exclusion from Workplace interaction and activities, and other forms of marginalisation
  • Threatening behaviour towards a person, or that creates a hostile environment.

SANAC has a harassment policy that sits with HR as custodians, employees are encouraged to familiarise themselves with and know what processes to follow if they ever experience any form of discrimination in the workplace.  SANAC policy urges all Employees, including Management, to refrain from committing act(s) of Harassment.

Management and Employees should ensure that their conduct does not cause offense, and in turn, should discourage unacceptable behaviour on the part of others.  Should an employee fall victim to sexual harassment at SANAC, please report it to the office of the HR Manager, this can be done verbally or in writing, immediately or preferable not later than ten (10) days after the incident.