Legal Framework in Cyprus
The Equal Treatment of Men and Women in Employment and Vocational Training Law (Law 205(I)/2002) (hereinafter the “Law”) constitutes the legal framework regarding sexual harassment in the workplace in Cyprus. Pursuant to the provisions of the Law, every employee/worker has the right to enjoy a working environment free from any form of sexual harassment. More specifically, the Law establishes an absolute prohibition on sexual harassment at work, in both the private and public sectors.
What constitutes ‘sexual harassment’?
“Sexual harassment” is defined in the Law as any form of behavior of a sexual nature (either verbal or substantive) that is unwanted by the recipient with the purpose or effect of offending a person’s dignity and in particular creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, degrading or offensive environment during a person’s employment, vocational training or effort to access employment or to enrol in training.
Besides, in accordance with the relevant case law, “conduct of a sexual nature” includes a wide range of behavior, such as:
- sexual comments or jokes;
- displaying sexually graphic pictures, posters or photos;
- suggestive looks, staring or leering;
- propositions and sexual advances;
- making promises in return for sexual favors;
- sexual gestures;
- intrusive questions about a person’s private or sex life;
- sexual posts or contact on social media;
- spreading sexual rumors about a person;
- sending sexually explicit emails or text messages; and
- unwelcome touching, hugging, massaging or kissing.
Note: Sexual interaction that is invited, mutual or consensual is not sexual harassment because it is not “unwanted”. However, sexual conduct that has been welcomed in the past may become unwanted in the future.
Employers’ legal obligations
The Law places a clear obligation on employers to abstain from any action which could constitute sexual harassment and to take any action needed to prevent or deal with incidents of sexual harassment. Hence, apart from the person who sexually harasses another in the workplace, the employer may also be found liable for acts of sexual harassment done by his/her employees, whether they are supervisors or co-workers of the victim.
Additionally, the Law provides protection against retaliation which may take place towards the victim of sexual harassment should he or she denounce such an incident and at the same time safeguards the position of an employee who is willing to provide and/or provides evidence regarding sexual harassment that occurs by others in the workplace.
Preventive steps to protect your employees and business
In accordance with established case law, the general principle is that, an employer who merely takes steps against sexual harassment only after the incident has occurred (such as disciplinary actions) will not necessarily avoid any liability. At the same time, employers may not be liable for sexual harassment committed by persons in their workplaces if they can prove that they have taken all the reasonable steps to prevent the incident (eg. that they have dealt with a complain promptly, efficiently and sensitively).
The appropriate steps to be taken in such cases will depend on the size of the particular employer; its resources; and other risk factors specific to that employer/industry. As a starting point, employers should thus consider taking the following preventive measures:
- Establish clear and effective policies and procedures which are accessible to everyone in the workplace and which are communicated regularly to employees. The main purpose of such policies and procedures is the internal resolution of any complaint raised within the organisation.
- Provide regular training about sexual harassment in a policy declaration, even though this is not required by the provisions of the Law. Training which focuses on how to report; prevent and deal with sexual harassment, as well as on the liability of perpetrators in such incidents, should be offered to employees.
Key points for a sexual harassment policy
An effective and efficient sexual harassment policy will set out a range of approaches for dealing with harassment, from informal solutions to formal disciplinary processes. More specifically, such a policy shall always include:
- The roles and responsibilities of the key persons in the investigation procedure;
- Target timescales for each stage of the process;
- Key principles and rules to be followed by any person involved in order to maintain confidentiality while the complaint process is on-going;
- Information on how a victim may proceed to report an incident of sexual harassment to both the employer and the competent local authorities;
- A specific and well-structured procedure whereby the complainant and alleged harasser should be informed of their statutory right to be accompanied at formal grievance hearings.
Note: Dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace is not a “one off” exercise and policies shall be reviewed on an annual basis.
Whether you are an employer or an employee, our team of lawyers can provide professional advice to any employment law dispute. If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.