The Cayman Islands government has released its first formal policy prohibiting sexual harassment in the civil service workplace, several years after the enactment of the territory’s Gender Equality Law.
The 12-page document sets out how complaints of workplace harassment are to be made, who should handle them and the potential outcomes of those investigations. Punishment, including dismissal from work, for sexual harassers and those who falsely report sexual harassment are also detailed in the document.
“Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal and prohibited,” the policy states. “Such behavior may manifest itself in the form of verbal, non-verbal or physical harassment.”
According to the policy, “spreading rumors about an individual’s sex life” is considered verbal harassment, along with “graphic verbal comments about an individual’s body.”
Non-verbal harassing behaviors include paying “unwanted attention” to someone, making rude facial expressions and displays of sexually suggestive material in the workplace.
Material includes electronic transmissions of material, the policy states.
The document also states that ‘quid pro quo’ sexual harassment – where a higher-ranking individual seeks to elicit sexual favors from a lower ranking employee in exchange for beneficial treatment of some kind – is forbidden and can lead to suspension or termination.
The policy further defines what is not considered sexual harassment, including “ambiguous behaviors” that are offensive or crude but which are not considered sexually harassing. Polite requests for a date by a work colleague or general compliments on someone’s appearance are not considered harassment.
Also, the policy states that legitimate management intervention, including work counseling and discipline would not in and of itself constitute sexual harassment.
“The civil service is committed to providing a safe and positive working environment for our staff,” Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said. “We have developed a zero tolerance toward sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Mr. Manderson said he encouraged civil service employees to make reports of offending behavior if they genuinely believed sexual harassment was occurring.
In an instance where a formal complaint is made and a review reveals that sexual harassment has occurred, the severity of the offense will determine what disciplinary action is taken against the civil servant, the policy states. This can range from a written reprimand, to suspension, to transfer out of the department to outright dismissal from the service.
If the complaint is determined to be false, disciplinary action can be imposed on the person who reported the incident or incidents. Unfounded or unsubstantiated allegations of sexual harassment would not lead to disciplinary action as long as they were made in good faith.