The days of having posters of scantily-clad women plastered on the walls of local rum shops could be a numbered with the recent passage in Parliament of the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill 2017.
While the Bill does not specifically outlaw the hanging of posters, such as the popular Banks Calendar Girl, in local watering holes, Labour Management Advisor at the Barbados Employers’ Federation (BEC) Melony James explained today that once the law was fully enacted, all it would take is for one employee to raise objection for the images to have to be removed.
“I tell people that they have to be careful of the paraphernalia that you have in your organization. In a rum shop we may say that the Banks Calendar Girl is something that is okay in that setting because we have come to accept that in our culture. However, in the said rum shop, if an employee does not like the poster that is there because it seems offensive, that has now crossed the line and now has become an act of sexual harassment, so therefore situations like that have to be also cautioned,” said James during a presentation today entitled Sexual Harassment-a modern workplace dilemma at the BEC’s Dalkeith Road office.
Referencing a section of the legislation which won parliamentary approval last month, James explained that the measures which become law in six months time, prohibit the transmission of offensive material of any kind.
She also warned that the onus was on the owner of the establishment to ensure that the environment was harassment free; therefore it did not matter if the posters were up before the offended party commenced employment.
“It does not matter if they were up before. Remember the Act says that that the employers must create an environment that is free of sexual harassment,” she stressed.
Attorney-at-law Cicely Chase supported James’ interpretation of the new law while cautioning employees that transmission of offensive material was not limited to print, but also included suggestive jokes shared on Whatsapp and other forms of social media that could be used as evidence of sexual harassment.
“This Act speaks to this kind of conduct so someone could perceive that type of conduct to be harassment because I may perceive that the person is trying to send me a message through social media to harass me and the proof will be right there when you take the complaint to the employer,” she said.
In piloting the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill, 2017 in the Upper House last month, Minister of Labour Senator Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo said Barbadians “have to have the right to work without fear of molestation, harassment [or] fear of any kind in the workplace”.
Stating that she knows of older women, men and young people who complain of sexual harassment in the workplace, Byer-Suckoo said, “we have to be able to say to them by virtue of this legislation, it stops now”.
She explained that under the Act, the “use of sexually suggestive words, comments, jokes, gestures or actions that annoy, alarm or abuse a person” may be considered sexual harassment, so too “the initiation of uninvited physical contact with a person; the initiation of unwelcome sexual advances or the requests of sexual favours from a person; asking a person intrusive questions that are of a sexual nature that pertain to that person’s private life; transmitting sexually offensive writing or material of any kind; making sexually offensive telephone calls to a person; or any other sexually suggestive conduct of an offensive nature”.
Byer-Suckoo explained the legislation was gender neutral and therefore “does not presuppose that the perpetrator is a man and the victim is a woman, but allows for those occasions where either could be the victim and either could be the perpetrator”.
She however hastened to add that the proposed law was not an opening for regulations making homosexuality legal.
“There is concern when we say gender neutral, when I speak to harassment of the vulnerable groups such as women, homosexual men, and lesbians . . . that I would hear in the public domain this is opening up the door to legalizing homosexuality.
“That is not the aim of this legislation. That is not what this legislation is doing,” she emphasized.