Sexual Harassment – Trinidad Law

By Azaria Cheddie                          On 17. 03.2019


The National Workplace Policy on Sexual Harassment:

The National Workplace Policy on Sexual Harassment 2019 was laid in Parliament on Friday 8th March, 2019 as thousands of people across the world celebrated International Women’s Day.

Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, in making the announcement, stated:

Sexual Harassment is a violation of fundamental human rights and it adversely affects the working environment, undermines gender equality at work, creates unfair practices in employment, and negatively impacts the dignity and well-being of workers.

The Labour Minister referred to the 2017 National Women’s Health Survey for Trinidad and Tobago which identified:

Thirteen percent (13%) of women experienced Sexual Harassment at work, on the job, in public transport and public spaces, with the highest prevalence of this type of harassment being in the form of electronic messages with sexual content, eight percent (8%), and being groped in a public space, seven percent (7%). The survey also suggested that in certain instances, as many as eighty four (84%) of Sexual Harassment experiences were unreported.

The Labour Minister explained that one of the most important elements of the policy is that it clarifies the ambiguity of what is sexual harassment in Trinidad and Tobago by setting out definitions and identifying actions  to address the issue.

The Inclusion of Migrant Workers:

The Labour Minister also recognized that Migrant Workers experience sexual and other types of exploitation at work. Migrant Workers and in particular female Migrant Workers face several vulnerabilities. The Labour Minister insisted that this Policy applies to all workers, regardless of their residency status.

The full pol­i­cy can be viewed on the Min­istry’s web­site:

http://molsed.gov.tt/images/National_Workplace_Policy_on_Sexual_Harassment_-_18-2-19_-_FINAL.pdf

The Equal Opportunity Commission:

While specific legislation for sexual harassment is pending, the Equal Opportunity Commission (“EOC”) is empowered under the Equal Opportunity Act, Chapter 22:03 (“EOA”) and common law to adequately provide all the benefits of specific legislation on sexual harassment.

The EOC has the power to receive, investigate, conciliate or refer complaints of sexual harassment to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal.

Their guidelines are based on national and international standards as well as relevant legislation, including the:

Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago Chapter 1:01:

Which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex is enshrined as a fundamental right of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago (Part 1 section 4);

Equal Opportunity Act of Trinidad and Tobago, Chapter 22:03 (“EOA”):

Which affords excellent protection for redress through the EOA and the Industrial Court. Under the EOA, sexual harassment is encompassed as unlawful sex discrimination against a man or woman in the category of employment, in the way that the employer dismissed him/her OR subjected him/her to a detriment due to his/her sex;

Occupational Safety and Health (“OSHA”), Act Chapter 88:08:

Which also prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Section 6 of OSHA sets out the “General Duties of Employers to Employees” and places a statutory requirement on the employer to inter alia provide and maintain a working environment for his/her employees that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe, without risks to health, and adequate, as regards amenities and arrangements for their welfare at work.

Sexual Offences Act, Chapter: 11:28:

Sexual harassment may manifest itself as a criminal offence liable on conviction in the criminal court to imprisonment. The Act defines “indecent assault” as an assault accompanied by words or circumstances indicating an indecent intention. Sexual harassment is a crime triggered by a formal complaint or charge. Accordingly, there has to be a complaint from the victim or another party that is aware of the incident.

Recourse under the EOA:

Recourse under the EOA is simple and free during the investigative process at the EOC and Conciliation Department of the EOC.

A complaint can be lodged with the Equal Opportunity Commission. In lodging a complaint, you are required to fill out a complaint form setting out:

  1. Your contact information and the contact information of the person you are lodging a complaint against.
  2. The date and details of the alleged act of discrimination.
  3. Any supporting documents or evidence can be attached to the complaint form.

This complaint must be lodged with the Commission within six months of the date of the alleged act of discrimination. The Commission may accept complaints that are lodged with them after this six month period, but this is only done in exceptional circumstances. The Commission will notify you in writing when it has received your complaint within 14 days of receipt.

The Commission will investigate your complaint to determine if there is evidence of discrimination, and thus a breach of the Act. If there is evidence of discrimination, the Commission will attempt to settle your matter through conciliation. If it cannot be settled by reaching a conciliation agreement, the Commission may refer the matter to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal with your consent, which will then make an order on the matter.

It is only when the process of conciliation has been unsuccessful that the victim/complainant would incur costs if he/she decides to exercise the option to proceed to have his/her matter adjudicated upon before the Equal Opportunity Tribunal (“EOT”).

To view the EOC’s Guidelines on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace:

http://equalopportunity.gov.tt/sites/default/files/Guidlines%20on%20Sexual%20%20Harrassment_FINAL.pdf

(It should be noted that these Guidelines are not legally binding; they provide critical guidance and may be referred to by employers, workers and enterprises who are attempting to prevent and effectively respond to sexual harassment in the workplace)

 

This post does not constitute or provide legal advice neither does it establish an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

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