Ombudswoman Maria Lottides presented on Wednesday a code of conduct her office has prepared to prevent and deal with sexual harassment within the civil service.
She said at present her office is looking into eight sexual harassment cases which have been pending since 2015 and highlighted how the courts have previously taken the government to task for failing to protect civil servants from falling victims to sexual harassment.
At the presentation, also attended by Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou, Lottides said that the code of conduct on sexual harassment is a very important step, as it concerns all civil servants, men and women, regardless of their employment status.
The text will also be a guide for the government, as the employer, to take immediate measures to avert acts – isolated or repeated – that constitute harassment, sexual harassment and victimisation of those who may report such behaviour.
Lottides said that around eight such cases filed with her office have been pending since 2015. A report is being prepared by her office for one of them, she said, while in some cases, it was deemed that the claims were not that airtight “so as to prove on our behalf that there was sexual harassment”.
Emilianidou said that she would promote the code of conduct to the cabinet, “to call on all competent authorities to apply it”.
“It is a very important tool because for the first time all necessary actions are being provided for anyone to be able to know how to act,” Emilianidou said.
She added that harassment at work is a disciplinary offence, and that no one should tolerate such behaviour.
The code of conduct in question concerns the civil service, she said, but an effort is underway for one for the private sector.
“Our aim is the application of a similar code of conduct, which could be part of collective agreements,” she said.
The code of conduct explains what constitutes harassment, sexual harassment, unwanted behaviour and behaviour of a sexual nature and gives instructions to employees on how to prevent it and what to do if it takes place.
It also lists the responsibilities of each authority including measures for prevention and dealing with such behaviour and providing support to the victim. The reported cases are to be treated discreetly, the code of conduct says.
The guide also refers to the stages of unofficial and formal processes of investigating such claims. The informal process aims at dealing directly with sexual harassment before it evolves.
The code also lists myths and stereotypes about harassment.
“Each supervisor, each competent authority and the public administration in general must know that harassment and sexual harassment at the work place constitute gender discrimination forbidden by law and that they have the legal responsibility to ensure a safe, dignified, healthy and friendly work environment,” Lottides said.
The employer is otherwise, jointly responsible with the person who committed the acts, she said.
The chairperson of the Gender Equality and Vocational Training Committee Luiza Zannetou Christodoulidou referred to the obligation of the employers to take preventive and punitive measures as soon as they are aware of any harassment.
“Otherwise, the employer is held jointly responsible with the perpetrator and that is precisely why the Republic of Cyprus has been called in in some cases to pay compensation for the action of an employee, precisely because there was no such preventive treatment,” she said. Christodoulidou said that court found that the Republic, as an employer, had not informed its staff of such behaviour. “It is these gaps that the code will cover.”