The responsibility for a well-run ship with healthy crew relations belongs to the officers. When harassment occurs, though, it is also important that the victim refuses to accept it. That is the opinion of Naiti del Sante, labour lawyer.
In the worst cases of sexual harassment, when someone molests another person or uses sexual words, there is no doubt about what is happening. However, it is often much more subtle – signals such as looks, unwanted compliments or comments on the limit of what is acceptable.
”For example, I had a case where a man constantly joked about bananas, and said things like ”Why don’t you have another one?” and ”Mmm, isn’t it tasty?” in an insinuating tone. Then it is not quite as clear-cut,” says Naiti del Sante.
”In another case, some of the older men working in a municipality had some sort of tradition of giving compliments to young female employees. They didn’t think they were doing anything wrong, but it was not so nice for the women when to hear comments about their appearance and clothes for the tenth time.
”In such unclear cases, it is the victim’s own perception that determines whether the behaviour is regarded as sexual harassment. However, for a case to be made, the perpetrator must be told how their behaviour is perceived.
”It may very well be the case that the person behind the harassment is not aware of it. Perhaps they think it is just part of the banter at the workplace or they don’t understand that the behaviour is not appreciated. That is why the person who feels offended must speak up,” says Naiti del Sante.
That may be easier said than done, especially in cases where a manager is guilty of harassment or if the victim is a subordinate.
”It is often a tough situation which the victim is facing, that is for sure, but it is necessary to speak up to put an end to it. It is best to act as early as possible and not just wait and hope it goes over,” says Naiti del Sante.
She points out that there are different ways of speaking up, though. The victim could go to a safety officer, the union or a manager – someone that they have confidence in.
”You could also write an e-mail or a letter to the person who is offending you. The important thing is for the perpetrator to understand how their behaviour is perceived,” she says.
When a manager becomes aware of sexual harassment at work, there is a clear obligation to act to prevent it. If discussions and warnings do not solve the problem, it may ultimately become a legal case with the employer being liable for damages. Naiti del Sante has helped many workplaces to achieve a healthier atmosphere. According to her, good managers are the key to success in these cases. The manager must be familiar with the law, quickly notice any problem signals and be clear about what tone of conversation and behaviour is acceptable.
”Already at the recruiting stage, employers should ask manager candidates what they know about the work environment. The work environment is a very important part of all managers’ work and if there are shortcomings the employer may be liable for damages in the worst case,” she says.