By: Cristina Andrea N. Rioflorido, Apprentice
Republic Act No. 11313, otherwise known as “Safe Spaces Act,” was signed into law last April 17, 2019 to minimize, if not put an end, to the misogynistic culture in public places and at work. Employers or other persons of authority, influence or moral ascendancy now have the duty to prevent, deter or punish gender-based sexual harassment (GBSH) in the workplace. While the implementing rules and regulations are still being drawn by Philippine Commission on Women as lead agency, employers need to know the following things about the new law to make the workplace more productive and less prone to GBSH:
- Decorum Committee
Employers are required to establish a committee on decorum and investigation or any independent internal mechanism to investigate and resolve GBSH complaints. A woman should head the committee and most of its members should also be women. No member of the committee should be connected or related to the alleged GBSH perpetrator.
The GBSH complaint must be resolved within 10 days from receipt thereof after allowing all the parties to be heard. The proceedings of the committee should be confidential, and the complaining party must be protected from possible reprisals by the perpetrator.
- Code of Conduct
The new law also requires employers to develop a code of conduct or workplace policy that reiterates the prohibition against GBSH, describes the existence of and procedure before the decorum committee, and provides the administrative penalties as a result of a finding of GBSH.
- Preventing GBSH
Employers likewise need to provide measures to prevent GBSH like organizing anti-sexual harassment seminars. A copy of the new law should also be disseminated or posted on a conspicuous place.
- Penalties for non-compliance
Employers, who can be personally liable if they themselves commit GBSH, can be sanctioned and slapped with a fine of not more than P10,000 after being convicted if they fail to create a decorum committee, develop a code of conduct and provide anti-GBSH measures. A fine of not more than P15,000 will be imposed in case the employer fails to take any action on an GBSH complaint. The Department of Labor and Employment will be conducting unannounced workplace inspections to ensure compliance by the private sector.
The new law re-defined the crime of workplace GBSH to consist the use of current technologies in information and communication such as text messaging and electronic mail. Examples of workplace GBSH crimes include the following:
- any act or series of acts involving any unwelcome sexual advances, requests or demands for sexual favors or 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 any 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 using technology such as text messaging or electronic mail or through any other forms of information and communication systems; and
- a conduct that is unwelcome and pervasive and creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating environment for the recipient.
While the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 requires demand for sexual favors for harassment in the workplace to be punishable, the new law criminally sanctions mere unwelcome sexual advances that have a negative effect on the recipient’s work environment. This lowers the bar for the filing of GBSH complaints against offenders.