The landslide #MeToo movement uncovering the misdeeds of powerful people, especially men, and giving an idea of the scale of sexual harassment and abuse at work has left ripples all over the world, indicating that the time for change is overdue. In Malta, a poll carried out recently on the MaltaChamber.org.mt website found that 68 per cent of respondents believe that harassment in the workplace is just as prevalent locally as it is where it made headlines in Hollywood. Dr Roberta Lepre, Managing Consultant at Weave Consulting, a firm which specialises in equal opportunities, diversity management, harassment and corporate social responsibility, believes that change has to start at the top.
The results of the poll carried out on Maltachamber.org.mt
“It is no news that sexual harassment is very widespread and a major problem in Malta – unfortunately, despite data over the years showing that the situation is worrying, things have not improved. The law provides a wide definition of sexual harassment, including subjecting other persons to acts of physical intimacy; requesting sexual favours from other persons; subjecting other persons to any act or conduct with sexual connotations, including spoken words, gestures or the production, display or circulation of any written words, pictures or other material (where the act, words or conduct is unwelcome to the persons to whom they are directed and could reasonably be regarded as offensive, humiliating or intimidating); or treating persons subjected to sexual harassment less favourably because they would have rejected the sexual advances.”
“As you can see, the definition is very wide, and it is also subjective – what is considered as acceptable behaviour to one person might be construed as harassment to another person.” The penalties for sexual harassment envisaged under the law are a fine which can be of up to €2,329.37, or imprisonment of up to six months, or both the fine and imprisonment. “Sexual harassment is a crime. Besides this, the employee can file civil claims against both the offender and the employer,” Dr Lepre says.
“Speaking up is always the hardest part – find the courage to speak to your HR manager informally, or at least to a trusted colleague and friend. Remember that it is an employer’s duty to prevent sexual harassment at the place of work. Find out about the sexual harassment policy at your place of work and understand what will happen once you lodge a complaint.”
While victims are often afraid to speak up against powerful aggressors, especially because it could lead to them losing their job, Dr Lepre says that it is against the law to fire an employee because s/he has filed a complaint, and that there are various resources available to the victims. However, the problem needs to be tackled at its root, by implementing proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment .
“Ultimately people who are subjected to sexual harassment want to be able to go to work and perform to their fullest capacity without the anxiety of dealing with the aggressor. Therefore it is imperative that places of work have policies and procedures in place which cater for the needs of the victim and ensure due process. This is also a way through which companies enable employees to perform better and prove that they are socially responsible.”
Dr. Roberta Lepre is a warranted advocate and CSR Consultant - www.weaveconsulting.eu