CMS Expert Guide on sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment is prohibited by the Austrian Equal Treatment Act (“Gleichbehandlungsgesetz”) passed in 2004 and by the Federal Equal Treatment Act (“Bundes-Gleichbehandlungsgesetz”) passed in 1993. Since then, there have been amendments due to European Union legislation. The rules in both acts follow the same scheme and address:

  • sex-related harassment i.e. unwanted conduct related to the protected characteristic of sex;
  • harassment of a sexual nature i.e. unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.

(Sexual) harassment is subject to the Equal Treatment Act if it (1) results in an intimidating, hostile or humiliating work environment for the people concerned or this conduct is aimed to do so, or (2) if it results in a less or more favourable treatment based on a person's rejection of, or submission to, sex-related harassment or sexual harassment. 
Section 6 Austrian Equal Treatment Act prohibits harassment:

  • by the employer,
  • by a third party related to the employment,
  • by a third party not related to the employment.

The Act also holds the employer liable if he or she fails to provide a remedy against (sexual) harassment.  

The law prohibits harassment in the workplace including sexual harassment (Official gazette of Montenegro no. br. 030/12 and 054/16).  This law has been in force since 2012.

2. Are employers in this jurisdiction required to take pro-active action to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace?

The Austrian Equal Treatment Act treats the employer's failure to address and put an end to sexual harassment as itself sexual harassment. Hence, the employer is legally obliged to act if any charges of sexual harassment occur, but not to pro-actively engage in action to prevent sexual harassment. 

Workplace harassment is known as “mobbing” in Montenegro. An employer and an employee are obliged to comply with the rules on prevention and protection against mobbing. An employer is obliged to provide an employee with work in the workplace and working environment under conditions that ensure that employee's dignity, integrity and health are being respected, and to take the necessary measures to protect an employee from mobbing.

Additionally, before entering into employment relationship with an employee, an employer is obliged to inform him/her in writing about its rights, obligations and responsibilities in connection with mobbing.

In order to prevent mobbing, an employer must implement certain measures (i.e. by providing information and organising training) with regards to causes, manifestations and consequences of mobbing.

3. Has the #MeToo movement had a noticeable impact on the number of harassment claims against your employer clients?

No, there has not been a noticeable impact on the number of harassment cases against our clients, but we experience an increasing awareness of how damaging a company's failure to act swiftly and appropriately on sexual harassment allegations may be.

No.

Employees may receive support from their works council or trade union, the Austrian Chamber of Labour, or the Ombudsman for Equal Treatment (“Gleichbehandlungsanwaltschaft”). All the bodies mentioned can initiate legal proceedings at the Equal Treatment Commission (“Gleichbehandlungskommission”). Additionally, the employee can claim compensation in front of labour courts.

The employee is entitled to a minimum compensation of EUR 1,000.00 for the personal detriment suffered. Moreover, any other financial loss must be compensated.

In the event of being found to have committed the offence of mobbing, an employer may be fined between €500 to €10,000 (ii) the person responsible may be fined between €500 and €3,000 and (iii) an entrepreneur may be fined between €100 and €1,500.

5. On a traffic light red/amber/green scale, how high a priority is tackling sexual harassment for clients in this jurisdiction?

Tackling sexual harassment is of medium priority for our clients (amber). Our impression is that companies aim to deal with harassment cases professionally, given the increasing moral awareness and the increasing risk of reputational damage. There is an increasing appetite to quickly address allegations of harassment to avoid reputational damage and to minimise the physical and psychological stress of the individuals involved. Yet, we strongly advise clients to place more importance on measures to prevent sexual harassment.

Amber. 

6. Any other relevant information on workplace harassment?

The allocation of the burden of proof works in favour of the employee as the individual employee must only show the credibility of the harassment allegations. It lies with the employer to refute these allegations.

The law defines harassment (i.e. mobbing) as any active or passive conduct at work or in relation to work for an employee or group of employees, which is repeated, which is intended or represents a violation of the dignity, reputation, personal and professional integrity of the employee and which causes fear or creates a hostile, humiliating or offensive environment, deteriorates the working conditions or leads to the isolation of employees or results in them terminating their contract of employment or other contract on their own initiative (including encouraging or instigating others to do so). Mobbing behaviour includes sexual harassment.