This week Your Advocate is Barrister Omar Khan Joy, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh. He is the head of the chambers of a renowned law firm, namely, 'Legal Counsel', which has expertise mainly in commercial law, corporate law, family law, employment and labor law, land law, banking law, constitutional law, criminal law, IPR and in conducting litigations before courts of different hierarchies. Our civil and criminal law experts from reputed law chambers will provide the legal summary advice.
I am a regular follower of your advocate column in the Daily Star. I have been facing some problems in my office and was thinking of writing to you. I work for a reputed multinational company in Dhaka in a mid-level position. We do have an open and good working environment otherwise. But, very unfortunately I have been facing some unwanted behaviors from particularly one of my male colleagues. I think this is some kind of eve teasing. He regularly makes adult jokes and makes comments about my dresses and admires my beauty, which is very uncomfortable. At occasions, he tries to unnecessarily come close to me physically. There were more than one occasions, when he touched my body parts and said 'oh sorry', as if it was done inadvertently! While discussing the matter with my other colleagues, I came to know that some of them too are severely facing such problem. Few of them have been directly made indecent proposals. Please advice what shall I do.
First of all, I think I should thank you for raising the matter. Unfortunately, such from of sexual harassment at workplace is not at all uncommon not only in our country but also across the globe. More unfortunately, in most of the cases theses remain unaddressed paving the way for continuance of the same. You deserved to be appreciated for highlighting the problem and showing your willingness to address it. Harassment can take many forms. Sexual harassment is a kind of them, which is based on any act of improper sexuality. This can take many forms, for example: Unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome sexual comments or remarks, touching someone else's body inappropriately, asking for sexual favors, making unwelcome sexual jokes or jokes about the opposite sex or about individual lifestyle preferences, sexual assault etc. Though the range of such harassment is variable and wide, it is seen that most of the times the male colleagues do the same in a way, which is apparently very light but actually motivated by sexuality. The thumb rule for you is to address any kind of behavior, which you consider inappropriate whether by you male colleagues, your supervisor or even by another female colleague.
Coming to the issue of what you should do now, I would like to clarify that though it is not 'eve teasing', as you have termed in your email, this is certainly a wrong and a crime and we do have ample laws to address it. As per law, all the companies should have a 'sexual harassment redressal policy' of their own with a designated committee to address and redress the same. Despite such legal obligations, few companies have actually done so. However, as your employer company is a reputed one, I hope and expect that they have a committee to address the matter. In case if there is such a committee, you should refer the matter to the committee. However, I should advise that before complaining to the committee, you should first address the matter to your colleague, who is trying to harass you. The following may be good ways to directly address the matter. You need to communicate your displeasure or lack of interest in what he is doing or saying. This can be done by simply telling the harasser that you do not welcome his or her comments or behavior, e.g: “I want you to stop doing that now” “I am not interested in going out with you” “I want you to stop bothering me” “I don't find that funny” etc. Tell the harasser you want him to stop and preferably in front of a witness and let the harasser know their behavior is unwelcomed.
If the harasser does not stop the harassment or if you feel uncomfortable saying anything to him/her about it then talk to your supervisor or manager. Remember it is part of the Management's responsibility to ensure that a harassment free workplace is truly maintained. Or you may then lodge a complaint to your company committee for redressal of sexual harassment. In case where there is no such committee, you may report and complain to the HR (Human Resource) department.
We all should expect that once the matter is addressed to the harasser, he would stop behaving in the improper way. Or in case where the HR or the Committee needs to be involved, they should resolve it in the most appropriate manner.
It goes without saying that for such harassment, you can always file a complaint to the police as this kind of behavior violates several provisions of the Penal Code. But, certainly that should be the last course of action that you may like to take. I truly expect that my guideline shall practically help to come out of these awful experiences in the workplace. I will also urge you to share the guideline with your other colleagues to create their alertness.
Have a nice, safe and harassment free workplace and a healthy and wonderful life! Take care.
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