The Equal Opportunities Commission says redress for sexual harassment claims are on hold until the Court of Appeal determines if sexual harassment can fall under the category of sex discrimination.
The Court of Appeal is determining a matter to interpret whether sexual harassment can be accommodated under the provisions of sexual discrimination as it presently exists in the EOC act.
But until that determination is made or Government goes to parliament to make amendments to the EOC Act, there is little the Commission can do following an investigation into claims of sexual harassment.
“Sexual discrimination is accommodated under the EOC Act, sexual harassment may be an element of sexual discrimination, but it is not clearly stated in the act and is a grey area. So, if it is a clear case of sexual discrimination as provided for by the act, the whole process takes place, if however, it borders on sexual harassment that we cannot accommodate under discrimination it will be put on hold,” EOC Chair Ian Roach told Guardian Media.
The EOC has a 58-page guideline document on sexual harassment in the workplace which outlines how much it can damage workplace relations and infringe on human rights. But in its Foreword, it clearly states that ‘the recourse for an employee who is being subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace remains unclear.’
Roach explained why to Guardian Media.
“Right now, the provision doesn’t clearly state in the EOC Act that sexual harassment can amount to sex discrimination, what the Act provides for is sexual discrimination.”
Roach said the difficulty arises because there is also no clear definition for sexual discrimination and it could be given a wide interpretation.
“A number of different activities could be sexual discrimination and in the absence of the guidance of specific legislation, or the court giving an interpretation, it is very uncertain in that regard,” Roach added.
Clarity can also come from the Red House as the chairman said certain amendments can be made to the Act.
“Just by amending the EOC Act to add to the list of grounds for discrimination and also adding what sexual harassment can be defined as legally.”
On Friday, March 5, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi told Guardian Media an avalanche of proposed law against sexual harassment in the workplace, streets and via use of cyberspace is coming.
The EOC chair said his team is working closely with the AG in the drafting of that legislation.