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NEWS | Wednesday, 14 November 2007

New harassment laws tighten noose on ‘dirty language’

New amendments to equality in employment laws will render the use of any ‘sexy talk’ or vulgar behaviour which humiliates or offends fellow employees illegal.
The new rules will beef up the definition of ‘discriminatory’ behaviour by including any form of “unwanted” verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct or sexual requests which violate the dignity of the person when this creates “an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” for the person who is so subjected.
The rules effectively render bad language, blasphemy, unwanted sexual banter or other vulgar gestures illegal on the workplace – an offence liable to a maximum Lm1,000 fine and imprisonment of six months.
The real change in the laws is effectively the widening of the concept of harassment. The rules update equality laws first introduced in 2004 by tightening the definition of ‘discriminatory treatment’ and ‘harassment’ – literally spelling it out – in the workplace.
Legally, the rules extend the definition of discriminatory treatment as including harassment, but also sexual harassment and “any less favourable treatment based on a person’s rejection of, or submission to” any sexual advance.
Before the amendments, the definition merely stopped at ‘harassment’.
As always, it falls upon the employer to take preventive measures against any discrimination, particularly harassment and sexual harassment.
Joe Farrugia, the director of the Malta Employers Association said the rules widened the definition of discrimination, apart from strengthening the protection of employment regulations, parental leave regulations and urgent family leave.
“The difficulty to prevent harassment is still the same as it eve was. The laws place the onus on the employer to prevent this harassment. To that end, the workplace must have its non-harassment policies,” Farrugia said.
The new definition now considers any “less favourable treatment” of pregnant women or women on maternity leave as harassment.
But the laws also allows employers to discriminate on grounds of sex where particular occupational activities require characteristics pertaining to either men or women, provided that the objective is “legitimate” and the requirement “proportionate”.
The new laws also allow employers to undertake positive actions that can prevent or compensate for disadvantages, or to make easier for the under-represented sex to pursue a vocational activity which can ensure full equality between men and women in working life.
Sina Bugeja, chief executive of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality, said the inclusion of positive action in the laws was important to create a balanced system which does not discriminate between men and women.


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NEWS | Wednesday, 14 November 2007

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New harassment laws tighten noose on ‘dirty language’

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