Violence-free workplaces

By: Madrileña de la Cerna December 14,2014 - 11:53 AM

To culminate the 18-day campaign to end violence against women this year, a forum on Making Workplaces VAW-FREE was held on Dec. 10 which is also International Human Rights Day at the UP Cebu Union Building Conference Hall. Organized by the UP Cebu Office of Anti-Sexual Harassment (OASH), GAD Office and Sidlak GRC 7, the forum had for its resource person lawyer Virginia Palanca-Santiago, former assistant Ombudsman for the Visayas and  president of the board of directors of the Legal Alternatives for Women, Inc. Dr. Weena Gera, UP Cebu GAD coordinator, brought out an interesting point in her welcome remarks – how to convince men that women are co-contributors to development.

Santiago gave a  comprehensive review of Republic Act 7877 otherwise known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995. It clearly defines sexual harassment as a form of misconduct involving an act or a series of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, made directly or indirectly under the following instances:  where the behavior causes discrimination, insecurity, discomfort, offense or humiliation to another person or group, where submission to such conduct made either implicitly or explicitly a condition of employment, or where submission or rejection of such conduct is used as a basis for any employment decision, and the behavior interferes with a person’s work performance or creating intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

The places of the commission of sexual harassment are: in a work-related environment where the possible offenders are the employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer; education environment where the possible offenders are the teacher, instructor, professor; and the training environment where the possible offenders are the coach and the trainor. Other kinds of offenders are those who have the authority, influence or moral ascendancy over another, those who direct or induce others to commit any act of sexual harassment, and those who cooperate in the commission of the act of sexual harassment without which it would not have happened. Specifically, in the work-related environment, sexual favor is a condition in hiring or in the employment, re-employment or continued employment of the individual. Refusal to grant the sexual favor results in limiting, segregating or classifying the employee which in any way could discriminate, deprive or diminish employment opportunities; employees’ rights and privileges are impaired under existing labor laws; creates a hostile or offensive environment for the employee.  In the education and training environment, sexual favor is a condition for a passing grade, honors or scholarships, granting of allowances or other benefits.  Refusal of sexual demand results in an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for students, trainees or apprentice.

Three types of sexual harassment were identified:  “quid pro quo sexual harassment” – this for that – also known as sexual blackmail.  The victim is made to submit herself to sexual advances over promises of higher pay, promotions or better working conditions; “reverse quid pro quo sexual harassment” where the victim’s  refusal to accede to sexual favors results in diminution of salary, demotion, or other adverse effects on the status of the victim as a worker; “hostile environment sexual harassment” where the perpetrator makes no promises or threats to the victim but the sexual conduct  already ha an adverse effect on the victim who is uncomfortable and intimidated and can no longer work effectively and sees the workplace as hostile, offensive and intimidating.

Sexual harassment comes in four forms:  written contact (sexually suggestive or obscene letters, notes or invitations); verbal contact (comments, threats, slurs, epithets, jokes and sexual propositions); visual contact (leering or staring at another’s body, displaying sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons, poster or magazines); physical contact (intentional touching, pinching, brushing another person’s body or impending a blocking movement, assault and coercing sexual intercourse).

Santiago shared actual cases in her experiences at the Office of the Ombusdman-Visayas. The first was the case  against the head of the Office of the Ombudsman which eventually resulted in his dismissal. There have been a number of cases of sexual harassment against heads of offices but court decisions varied.  To prevent or deter the commission   and provide procedures for the resolution of such cases,  heads of offices or employers should promulgate appropriate rules  in consultation with and jointly approved by the employees, trainees and students, through their representatives, prescribing procedures for the investigation of sexual harassment cases and administrative sanctions.  Another is to create a committee on decorum and investigation (CODI) which should conduct meetings to increase understanding and prevent incidents of sexual harassment, and to conduct investigation of alleged cases of sexual harassment.

Reactors from government agencies and academe expressed the need to amend certain features of  RA 7877 like the liability of the employer which is very light.  But Atty. Santiago emphatically articulated the great need for  proper lawyering in dealing with cases of sexual harassment.

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TAGS: Cebu, human rights, violence, women, women and children
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