17 Jun Sexual Harassment Feature
What’s the broadest definition of sexual harassment you can provide? What are the penalties for sexual harassment according to Maltese law?
The law provides a wide definition of sexual harassment which is aligned with that provided in the relevant EU Directives. The definition includes 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 therefore the definition is very wide – it includes physical, verbal and visual conduct 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 therefore a crime. Besides this, employee can file civil claims against both the offender and the employer.
According to a recent poll conducted on the Malta Chamber website, 68 per cent of people believe that sexual harassment is a major problem in Malta. As a lawyer and CSR consultantdo you agree? Are there any particular business/industry sectors where it is more widespread, or do you think it is rather even across the spectrum?
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. When a situation of sexual harassment arises, it creates a headache for employers who have to deal with the situation but might not know how to react.
Without specific data, it is difficult to say if there are any industry sectors where it is more widespread – I have dealt with situations in various industries and at various occupational levels. However it is generally agreed that the prevalence is lower in those companies which implement proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment, possibly through a wider CSR programme.
Women are by far the majority of the victims in such cases, but do you think cases of sexual harassment against men are widespread in Malta too?
I don’t have any data which is gender-disaggregated, however my experience in the field leads me to believe that sexual harassment against men does occur, but is however not as prevalent as it is against women.
Victims are often afraid to speak up against powerful aggressors, especially because it could lead to them losing their job. Do you find this to be the case in Malta? What resources are available to help them tackle this?
It is against the law to fire an employee because s/he has filed a complaint. There are various resources available to victims, such as emotional support services and free legal aid, however in my opinion the most valuable resource that a victim can find is a workplace integrated system which caters for her needs. Ultimately people who are subjected to sexual harassment mainly 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. Ultimately this is also a way through which companies enable employees to perform better and through which they can prove that they are socially responsible.
Are there any words of advice you can give to someone who is enduring sexual harassment on the workplace and is afraid to speak up?
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.