Certain ambiguous behaviour such as over-familiarization between employees may result in serious problems for both the employees and employers. This was stated by Magistrate Hon. Dr. Joseph Mifsud on the 11th January 2016 in a criminal case decision (Police vs Owen Calleja) wherein an employee was accused of sexual assault after a complaint by another employee. The behaviour in question took place after working hours within the work place where the employees agreed to massage each other. This resulted in one of the employees being fired and then accusing the other employee of sexual assault.
The case was not proven and the employee was found not guilty of the charges. However, the Magistrate commented on the working place and warned that in all work environments, the employer should provide a code of conduct so that all employees are informed of their rights and obligations with regards to behaviour at the workplace. The code of conduct should indicate behaviour to be avoided and should also list examples of what can be considered as sexual harassment. In general, this should be supplemented by regular informational seminars and training.
The case in question dealt with criminal proceedings in the Criminal Court and not specifically relating to employment in the Industrial Tribunal. However, it is a clear example of what unwanted behaviour in the work place may lead to. An allegation of sexual harassment may lead to a person being found guilty of an offence and liable to a fine under the Equality for Men and Women Act. However, depending on the circumstances, sexual harassment may even lead to the filing of criminal proceedings wherein it is alleged that the behaviour in question amounts to a sexual crime under the Criminal Code. Sexual harassment allegations may lead to repercussions for both the employee concerned as well as the employer. The employer is also deemed responsible for such behaviour if proven. The employer, in fact, has an obligation at law to take effective measures to prevent such harassment at the work place. Therefore, it is the employer’s responsibility to educate all employees, at whatever level of employment, with regards to sexual harassment, and unwanted behaviour at the work place in general.