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Labour Court's landmark ruling opens doors: Employers to be held accountable for sexual harassment in the workplace

Labour Court's landmark ruling opens doors: Employers to be held accountable for sexual harassment in the workplace

In a far-reaching judgment on Friday 14 November 2003, the Cape Town labour court ruled in favour of a female ex-security guard and paved the way for employers to be held accountable for sexual harassment in the workplace.

"It is clear that the inaction of the respondent was unfair and led to a situation that became an intolerable environment for the applicant to continue employment. She (the complainant) was then compelled to terminate her contract of employment... the respondent ought to have foreseen the development of hostile and intolerable working environment in the circumstances," said acting judge Ronnie Pillay.

The case was taken up by the Women's Legal Centre, and revolved around Bongiwe Ntsabo, a female security guard who was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment and was indecently assaulted by her supervisor, a Mr Dlomo, at the end of 1999.

Ntsabo was formerly employed by Real Security CC owned by Mr and Mrs Fisher of Mitchells Plain.

The judge, finding for the applicant, awarded Ntsabo R82 000 in compensation under the Employment Equity Act and the Labour Relations Act.

Ntsabo claimed for sexual harassment, constructive dismissal, and damages for both financial and non-financial loss.

One of the lawyers from the Centre representing Ntsabo said on Friday that the ruling meant that employers had a duty to take action when they became aware of sexual harassment in the workplace.

"Now employers are liable for the sexual harassment perpetrated by employees on co-employees," said Hayley Galgut.

"I don't think that the floodgates to litigation will be opened because each case will have to be decided on its merits," she said.

Galgut emphasised part of the judgement, which recognised that the reporting of incidents of sexual harassment should occur within a reasonable time and that what is reasonable depended on the "trauma and circumstances" of the individual complainant.

Using rape as an example of the myth that complainants must report immediately if they are to be believed, Galgut particularly welcomed this section of the judgment, which clearly dispelled this myth.

Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

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BA LLB

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