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Serious issues with implementing sexual harassment legislation

The house human rights committee on Monday debated a bill to increase penalties for sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

The proposal, tabled by Disy’s Mariella Aristidou and Diko’s Christiana Erotokritou, aims to legally establish a code of conduct for employers that will prevent and suppress inappropriate behaviour, committee chairwoman Aristidou said.

She explained that even though existing legislation stipulates that employers must take measures against such behaviours, serious issues with implementation point towards a need to enshrine them in law.

The proposal seeks to amend existing regulation so that employers, both in the public and private sector, are obliged to follow a specific code for sexual harassment and abuse at work.

In addition, Aristidou said that the proposal is an effective tool in the hands of employers, that will also form a protective grid around each employee.

Gender equality is not only a cause to speak about once a year, but one to work towards with real actions, Erotokritou said.

Since 2018, the ombudswoman’s office has received 45 complaints from both the private and public sector, with four sexual harassment complaints made to the department of labour in 2020. However, none of the four cases were brought to justice as they could not find sound legal standing, Aristidou said.

The proposed penalties include increasing prison sentences from six months to three years, or a fine of up to €20,000 for assailants.

The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace should be addressed effectively, Akel MP Marina Stavrinou Koukou said, stressing that employers have a responsibility to adhere to the existing code of conduct, aside from employees.

To illustrate, she referred to a court decision in Paphos where an employer – the public sector in this case – was required to pay a fine of €22,000 for failing to take provisions for the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, or the protection of the victim.

Erotokritou expressed the hope that the bill will reach the House before the end of the current term so that Cyprus forms a comprehensive and effective legal framework that will ensure the equal treatment of men and women at work.

 

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