With Weinstein, #MeToo, Al Franken, Roy Moore and more, sexual harassment has been in the news a lot lately. But how do you report sexual harassment here in New Zealand?
Legally speaking, workers are supposed to be protected from sexual and racial harassment in the workplace by the Employment Relations Act of 2000 and the Human Rights Act of 1993.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has an online guide with examples of what can constitute sexual harassment, including some steps for reporting sexual harassment.
George Mason, MBIE employment services general manager, says the first step is to try and solve issues internally at work or school. “Employees who feel bullied, harassed or discriminated against have a few options,” says Mason. “If they feel comfortable dealing with the issue themselves, they can speak to the person involved, either in person or in writing. Alternatively, they could ask their manager or another manager to step in informally to try and help resolve the issue. If the behaviour continues, the person might choose to make a formal complaint.”
Mason has some advice for people who do choose to make a formal complaint. “If a person would like to make a formal complaint, they should follow any relevant workplace policies or processes for reporting, or let their employer know as soon as possible. Following this, if the person is not happy with the outcome they may go to mediation, bring an action with the Human Rights Commission (in relation to discrimination or racial or sexual harassment) or raise a personal grievance."
Mason adds that if you feel you or someone you know is in immediate danger, you should dial 111 to contact the police immediately.
Dr. Jackie Blue, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, has further advice. “We need to make sure people feel safe to come forward and raise these concerns through the processes that are available to them,” she says. “Part of achieving that is by talking about sexual harassment more openly, sharing experiences and creating an environment where people feel that reporting it won’t negatively impact them. Perpetrators also need to know their behaviour won’t be accepted or ignored.”
She adds there are several things employers can do. “These include making sure that employees know that complaints will be handled sensitively and confidentially and that anyone making a complaint of harassment will be listened to. If a complaint is made, the employee concerned needs assurance that they will be kept informed with appropriate information as the investigation progresses and will be safe during the investigation and following the investigation.”
A policy against sexual harassment is also of the utmost importance, she explains. “It is vital that in the workplace there is a clearly articulated and accessible policy of zero tolerance to sexual harassment and a culture that supports individuals coming forward. Processes for reporting sexual harassment must be safe, confidential and clear. The policy should outline what the steps are in making a complaint and give examples of what sexual harassment might look like.”
The Human Rights Commission also has an online guide with examples of sexual harassment, steps to take when reporting sexual harassment, and tips for looking after yourself to make sure you’re safe.
One of those steps if you have been or are being sexually harassed, the Commission recommends, is making a formal complaint. There are five steps to making a complaint:
1. Contact the Commission’s Infoline team.
A safe and confidential process, the team will listen to you, ask questions and, if appropriate, give you a complaint form to complete. They can be reached by phone 0800 496 877 or email at email@example.com.
2. Mediator referral.
In this step, you will likely be referred to one of the Commission’s mediators, who can provide information to help you resolve your complaint. Note: this step might involve notifying the other party (which potentially could be your harasser) of your complaint, if you agree to that.
At this point, a mediator will notify the other party (again, this could be your harasser) to let them know a complaint has been made about them. If you and the person you’re complaining about agree to a mediation meeting, this step may include working through possible solutions. It’s important to note that this step is meant to be confidential and impartial, and the mediator does not make decisions about the complaint – they just facilitate the mediation meeting.
The majority of sexual harassment cases are settled by mediation. A resolution may include an apology from the person who has harassed you, an agreement from them that they will never do it again, or your harasser may have to undergo training or provide you with compensation, among other consequences.
5. Legal action.
If your complaint isn’t resolved at mediation, you can take legal action. Human rights complaints are heard before the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which acts like a court. It is your right to have free legal representation. At this stage, criminal charges may be brought against your harasser, and they could be arrested and jailed.
Like Dr. Blue, Human Rights Commission senior communications advisor Charlotte Haycock also stresses the need for a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment of any kind. “Employers, educational institutions, etc. should have their own policies and processes, which will vary according to the size and structure of an organisation.”
Another organisation with a guide for reporting sexual assault and harassment is the police. The guide says that you have a right to report sexual assault or harassment to the police, who may ask you to make a statement. The statement may be recorded, so they can use it as evidence if you wish to press charges. The guide also states that police will work with you to put you in contact with medical help and advice if you need it, counselling, and organisations that can help with your recovery if you need help.
After an interview, police will advise you what the next steps will be. This could include being asked to identify the person who assaulted or harassed you, and possibly appearing in court to testify against them.
Rape Prevention Education recommends looking after yourself when reporting. They advise making sure you have breaks, considering bringing someone along to help you deal with any overwhelming emotions, finding a safe place to be once you leave the police station, and organising contact with friends and family if it’s safe to do so and they’re not the ones who have committed the assault.
It’s also important to remember this: there is no statute of limitations for reporting sexual assault in New Zealand – meaning you can report it at any time, even if it happened many years ago. With sexual harassment, there is a timeframe to keep in mind. If you intend to lodge a complaint with MBIE, you need to do so within a 90-day period of the harassment occurring. If you intend to lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, you need to do so within 12 months.
Remember, too, that no matter what, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. You have a right to feel anything you feel. You are awesome. Kia kaha.Support Villainesse