by Angel Grace D. Untalan, MARCH 2021
Sexual harassment, a term classified as a visual and verbal act, which may not be limited to lewd jokes, offensive comments, and coerced sexual relations is a pain spreading widely in our society. Republic Act No. 7877 or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 is just one of the first enactments in the Philippines which aimed to address this prevalent issue. Primarily, this law focused on acts of sexual harassment committed in the workplace, with limitations, however, in the scope of covered acts and employer liabilities.
Studies shows that low reports in relation to incidents of workplace sexual harassment should be raised as a major concern. Thus, it is important that employers adhere to a set of standards to minimize this phenomenon. As pointed out by Oertelt-Prigione in her 2020 study, sexual harassment is indeed an occupational harm.
In our jurisprudence, most cases related to sexual abuse or harassment are often sanctioned under Article 336 of the Revised Penal Code which provides for penal sanctions arising from acts of lasciviousness alone. At this day and age, Republic Act No. 11313, or the Safe Spaces Act may be considered as a sigh of relief for advocates and victims alike clamoring for stiffer measures against sexual harassment, which is every woman’s day-to-day adversary.
As such, it must be noted that Gender Based Sexual Harassment (GBSH) in the workplace may be committed between peers, and by a subordinate to a superior officer. For avoidance of doubt, all sites, locations, spaces, where work is being undertaken by an employee within or outside the premises of the usual place of business of the employer are considered workplaces.
GBSH in the workplace may include any of the following:
- An act or series of acts involving any unwelcome sexual advances, requests or demand for sexual favors or any act of sexual nature, whether done verbally, physically or through the use of technology such as text messaging or electronic mail or through any other forms of information and communication systems, that has or could have a detrimental effect on the conditions of an individual’s employment or education, job performance or opportunities;
- A conduct of sexual nature and other conduct-based on sex affecting the dignity of a person, which is unwelcome, unreasonable, and offensive to the recipient, whether done verbally, physically or through the use of technology such as text messaging or electronic mail or through any other forms of information and communication systems;
- A conduct that is unwelcome and pervasive and creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating environment for the recipient.
Employers and co-workers alike are enjoined by the law to refrain from committing acts of GBSH and report acts of GBSH witnessed in the workplace. Reports may be anonymous and shall not immediately constitute a formal complaint. Failure of employers to act on reports may make the employer liable under Sec. 19(b) of the Safe Spaces Act.
Further, it must be emphasized that nothing prevents a victim of work-related GBSH from instituting a separate and independent action for damages and other affirmative relief. However, any action arising from employees, co-workers, and employers’ violation of the law’s provisions shall prescribe in five (5) years. Failure to act within the said period extinguishes the victim’s right of action. The expanded scope of prescription is an improvement from the superseded Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 which initially provided for a prescription period of three (3) years.
For private sectors, DOLE is mandated to conduct spontaneous, random, and unannounced yearly inspections to ensure compliance of employers and employees, in accordance with their rules on inspection and their obligations under the law. Thus, employers should undertake the proper dissemination or posting of a copy of the law, implementation of trainings on gender sensitivity regardless of rank and status, and development of a code of conduct or workplace policy regarding the prohibition on GBSH.
All cases of GBSH must be treated with utmost confidentiality and victims of sexual harassment may avail of appropriate remedies, such as, but not limited to, psychological counseling services. Thus, if you are experiencing GBSH in the workplace, do not hesitate to report incidents to your trusted authorities, for appropriate action.
About the writer:
Angel Grace D. Untalan. A Legal Management graduate with an inclination to pursue the field of higher arts. She is moderately comfortable with social interaction, but can also relish her time off from the crowd. Her works are influenced by distinguished screenwriters such as Gene Roddenberry, George R.R. Martin, and Quentin Tarantino. She aspires to become a law practitioner at The Hague, who has published papers in a Scopus-indexed journal at some point in the future.