The guide to preventing harassment at work can become a beacon for consolidating awareness towards equal treatment of men and women, Labour Minister Yiannis Panayiotou said on Wednesday.

The minister was speaking at the presentation of the guide prepared with the help of the gender equality commission, which explains how employees must have a code of conduct to prevent harassment, inform workers of their rights but also take measures to implement this code.

This aims to guide organisations and businesses towards preventing and addressing harassing behaviour and sexual harassment in the workplace, Panayiotou said, noting that the gender equality commission plays a key role in the complete elimination of gender discrimination in employment.

“We must all recognise, whoever we are, wherever we are, which behaviours are acceptable and which are not.”

Harassment and sexual harassment are contrary to the principle of equal treatment of men and women which is the cornerstone of the existing legislative framework, the minister said.

He clarified that gender discrimination is not only found within the workplace, but also in access to employment and vocational training and development. Therefore, effective and dissuasive sanctions are required to encourage the reporting of such incidents without the fear of consequences, he added.

But the challenge that is “always observed” in case studies and guidelines, Panayiotou said, is their implementation. Coordinated action is needed, in cooperation with the social partners and civil society to monitor the implementation of the relevant provisions.

“I am confident that the text of the guide can be primarily a beacon for the consolidation of consciousness towards equal treatment of men and women at work and in vocational training,” the minister declared.

According to the chairwoman of the House legal affairs committee, Louiza Christodoulides Zannetou said the guide refers to the relevant 2002 law on the equal employment treatment of men and women and provides advice and examples on how to address such incidents.

Under the relevant law, employers are obligated to draw up a code of conduct to prevent acts of sexual harassment but also take adequate measures to implement what is set out.

They should inform victims of their right to make an informal of formal complaint but also the procedures available always on the basis of the principle of confidentiality.

If the employer fails to draw up the said code or fails to inform employers about the relevant procedures, the commissioner said, then they are wholly co-responsible with the perpetrator in cases of sexual harassment.

Zannetou noted that an important deterrent measure is the training of all staff in all departments at all levels on what constitutes unacceptable behaviour. She also recommended specialised training to management staff, who will be handling the complaints.

In case of a reported harassment incident, the commissioner said courts will consider the frequency of the problematic conduct, its severity, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating or whether its abusive language and unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.

She noted that Cypriot law does not specify how such complaints should be investigated so it is up to employers to design a system that suits the size, structure and resources of their organisation. Penalties range from a written reprimand to immediate dismissal.

The gender equality commission provides free of charge legal aid to anyone who was a victim of workplace harassment.