AS THE PROCESS of consultation and debate on the State’s policy regarding sexual harassment in the workplace continues, a call has been made for greater attention to be paid to cases in which people are wrongly accused.
“There should be redress for that person,” said David Brown, the employee relations manager at the National Maintenance Training and Security Company, at Wednesday’s forum on a draft national sexual harassment policy held at the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Westmoorings.
We agree with this call to a point. Whatever procedures are formulated, they must be fair and they must contain safeguards to acknowledge the sensitive nature of this kind of misconduct. Everyone is entitled to be assumed innocent unless proven guilty. If the State fails to promulgate robust recommendations in this regard, not only will thorny legal questions arise, but general confidence in measures will be tepid.
The need for confidence in reform could not be more urgent. All over the world, societies have been awakened. The untenable idea that people should simply accept harassment as par for the course has been detonated by scandal after scandal from those involving Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump to those closer to home at companies like Angostura and entities like the Ministry of Sport.
We too join the chorus of those, inspired by the #MeToo movement, who would like to see a more just and equitable dynamic enforced at workplaces. We propose our own hashtag: #WeToo. Action is overdue.
Consultation events like those held on Wednesday are laudable, but they should not be used as an excuse to demur on effective implementation.
There are no specific legal provisions addressing the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. While the matter can arguably be covered by sections of the Equal Opportunity Act, those provisions are not specifically geared towards tackling this issue. Constitutional motions might also provide redress and force the hand of enterprises, public or private, but they are costly.
Brown might take comfort in the fact that the Industrial Court has, in its jurisprudence on this matter over the years, examined the balancing act needed between taking care to avoid false accusations while at the same time ensuring justice for the complainant.
An effective procedure which penalises people who are proven to have made false allegations with malicious intent, as well as measures which allow a wrongly accused person to be compensated and for their exoneration to be widely publicised, could go some way to addressing these concerns.
At the same time, we cannot risk throwing out the baby with the bath water. The focus should not be on victim shaming or victim blaming. Nor should gratuitous and equally reprehensible attempts to smear and undermine the credibility of a complainant be encouraged. Yes, the accused must be treated fairly, as an accused person in any kind of case should be. But it is the victim who most needs our protection.