CMS Expert Guide on sexual harassment in the workplace

From a Swiss perspective, the term sexual harassment in the workplace covers any behaviour with a sexual aspect or based on gender that is unwanted by and humiliating to the recipient.

Employers are under an obligation to ensure that employees are not sexually harassed, and that any victim of sexual harassment suffers no further adverse consequences: (art. 328 para. 1 of the Code of Obligations).

Swiss law also provides for an express prohibition of discrimination through sexual harassment in the workplace, which includes in particular threats, the promise of advantages, the use of coercion and the exertion of pressure in order to obtain favours of a sexual nature (art. 3 of the Gender Equality Act 1995).

In addition, administrative law imposes the obligation on employers to take the measures necessary to protect the employee's personal integrity, which includes measures against sexual harassment under the Equality Acts.

Sexual harassment may result in a prosecution. Depending on the severity, a fine, a monetary penalty or a custodial sentence may be imposed.

It is also worth mentioning that various collective bargaining agreements set out provisions prohibiting sexual harassment.

The Code of Labour Laws of Ukraine dated 10 December 1971 contains general provisions prohibiting discrimination in the workplace, including discrimination based on gender.

The term sexual harassment is defined by Ukrainian legislation as any act of a sexual nature, expressed verbally (i.e., threats, intimidation, obscene remarks) or physically (i.e., touching, patting), humiliating or offending individuals who are in a relationship of labour, administrative, financial or other subordination. This term was introduced into Ukrainian legislation in 2005 by the Law of Ukraine “On ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men” (No. 2866-IV dated 08 September 2005). In 2017, the law was amended by the term “gender-based violence” and other terms to ensure equal protection of rights for women and men.

Employers may also include provisions addressing sexual harassment at work into collective bargaining agreements, including disciplinary consequences for acts of harassment (up to the dismissal of offenders). However, this is not a widespread practice in Ukraine.

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

Yes. Employers are not only obliged to intervene where sexual harassment occurs but they also have to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace in order to fulfil their duty of care and comply with the various legislative requirements to take all adequate and reasonable measures necessary to prevent sexual harassment.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs recommends implementing, in particular, the following measures:

  1. Employers should have in place a document outlining the principles (i.e. a policy document), containing (at least) a declaration of principles, in which the employers state that they are firmly opposed to sexual harassment and will not tolerate it, a definition of sexual harassment (including examples), the offer of support for victims (including the name of a contact person), and the sanctions that perpetrators of sexual harassment will face. This document must be communicated to all employees orally and/or in writing;
  2. Employers should appoint a trustworthy, respected, impartial and credible contact person within or outside the company who can support victims in need of help or advice. Ideally, there should be two contact persons, one of each gender. It must also be taken into account that such a contact person should be properly trained; and
  3. Employers must take any other reasonable preventive measures. For instance, they should ensure that pornographic material is not shown or displayed in the workplace and that employees who make comments and jokes about sexual characteristics, sexual behaviour or sexual orientation will be spoken to and told to stop doing so.

According to the Law of Ukraine “On ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men”, employers are obliged to take measures in order to prevent and protect against sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence.

However, there are no direct requirements or procedures for prevention and protection, and there are no direct consequences for employers for failing to ensure all of that.

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

We have not been aware of a considerable increase in claims against employers as a result of #MeToo. The number of enquiries to specialist/advisory bodies increased in 2017, shortly after the launch of the #MeToo movement. However, the number of enquiries has now returned to a normal level. Swiss prosecuting authorities have seen very little change in the number of inquiries and criminal complaints. On the other hand, it seems that awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace is rising on the part of employers. We have seen a sharp increase in the demand for further training on the subject of sexual harassment and its prevention.

No. The #MeToo movement has not had a noticeable impact on the number of harassment complaints made against employers in Ukraine.

Swiss law provides for a variety of legal remedies.

Employees who have been sexually harassed may suspend their work, and employers must continue to pay their salary during the suspension period.

Victims of sexual harassment may also lawfully terminate their contract of employment with immediate effect. In such cases, employees are entitled to damages equivalent to the amount they would have earned had the employment relationship ended after the ordinary notice period (usually 3 months).

Besides suspension and immediate termination of employment, victims of sexual harassment may bring an action against employers before the competent conciliation board, a court or the administrative body. To this effect, they may apply for an order prohibiting or stopping threatened sexual harassment, requiring sexual harassment to cease and confirming that sexual harassment is taking place if it is continuing to have a disruptive effect. On top of that, they may apply for compensation if the employer did not take sufficient measures to prevent sexual harassment. Such compensation may amount to up to six times the average Swiss monthly salary. In addition, victims may claim damages and satisfaction.

Employees may challenge a dismissal as a result of making a complaint of sexual harassment to their manager, or because of their initiation of legal proceedings. Remedies includes interim relief or compensation of up to six months’ salary within 180 days after termination of employment. Civil claims can also be brought against the harasser, and they may ask the court for injunctive relief as well as claim damages and satisfaction. The employee may also bring a criminal charge against the harasser.

In case of gender-based violence or sexual harassment, the injured person has the right to file a complaint with the state/ local authorities, the Commissioner of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine for Human Rights (Ombudsman at the Ukrainian Parliament), the court and / or with the police.

The employee can also claim in court "moral damages" suffered due to their employer’s unlawful actions. In order to claim such moral damages, however, an employee will need to prove moral suffering (e.g., by submitting a medical certificate issued based on a medical examination of the employee and reflecting the employee’s stress or other emotional disorders) and to substantiate the causal link between the damage caused to the employee and the employer's actions, which is not straightforward. The amount of the moral damages should be substantiated by the employee, but the final determination is made by court. In practice, courts usually award rather insignificant amounts of moral damages.

Depending on the nature and consequences of the harassment, the victim can also report a crime to the police. In particular, Article 154 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine provides criminal liability where individuals are forced to enter into sexual intercourse, including forcing individuals who are in a relationship of administrative or financial subordination. The moral compulsion by the offender can be treated as a criminal offence under the mentioned Article 154 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

This crime is punished with the fine of up to 850 UAH (approx. EUR 30) or with the arrest for up to 6 months. If this crime is supported by the aggravating circumstances, e.g.,  threats of destruction, damage or seizure of the victim’s property, disclosure of information that disgraces the victim or the victim’s relatives, it is punished with the arrest up to 6 months or the imprisonment for up to 3 years.

Furthermore, Article 153 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine stipulates that committing any sexual violence (not connected with the rape) without the voluntary consent of the victim is punished by imprisonment for up to 5 years.

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

Amber.

Although awareness of the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace has grown and the demand for specialised training for companies is increasing, tackling sexual harassment does not seem to be a top priority for employers. This may be against the background of Swiss law already having prescribed the implementation of measures against sexual harassment at an early stage, i.e., long before the #MeToo movement, and this has already become established corporate practice.

Tackling sexual harassment is not a top priority for employers in Ukraine.

Generally, employers are not taking active steps for prevention of sexual harassment. There is no official information about number of such cases. The employees are often reluctant to submit any claims, and some cases remain either unreported or in a latent state.

However due to employees’ increased awareness about their rights, tackling sexual harassment is becoming a higher priority.

6. Any other relevant information on workplace harassment?

Employees bear the burden of proof with regard to sexual harassment in the workplace. In this regard, a recent parliamentary initiative aimed to reduce the burden of proof in the context of sexual harassment in the workplace. This initiative was rejected. However, the Swiss Parliament is currently discussing whether a new study on sexual harassment in the workplace should be carried out (since the last study dates back to 2007/2008). This must be seen against the background of the Istanbul Convention Against Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence of the Council of Europe entering into force in Switzerland on 1 April 2018 and requiring members of the convention to collect statistical data on sexual harassment cases. A member of the Swiss Parliament recently requested the launch of a national prevention campaign against sexual harassment as well as the implementation of an action plan for the prevention of sexual harassment, which includes educational measures and training in companies. To date, this has not yet been discussed by the Swiss Parliament. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is currently considering a new convention on the ending of violence and harassment in the working environment. The outcome is still unclear but could also affect Switzerland as a member of ILO.

It is difficult for an employee to prove the facts in a harassment case, unless there was a witness to the actions or some direct evidence or the offender admits their misconduct.

Moreover, in Ukraine there were cases when the alleged offenders filed defamation claims and claims for compensation of moral damages against the victims of harassment, and such offenders’ claims were satisfied, including, due to insufficient evidence of harassment.

7. Are you aware of any sectors which have been particularly affected by, or concerned with, harassment? For example, where reports of complaints are high, or the media have exposed an issue, or regulators are taking action?

In Switzerland, there has not been a particular focus on this issue within any specific sector.

No.