Volume: Volume 25 - 2021
Article type: Refereed article
Author/s: Dina Maria Smit
In addition to being cutting-edge, the modern-day workplace is also increasingly cut-throat, having become a breeding ground for interpersonal violence, including bullying and (sexual) harassment. In South Africa, the country’s notorious problem with violence in broader society is perhaps partly to blame. Yet when workplace bullying/harassment intersects with employee depression, this could be a double punch with which very few workplaces are able to cope.
The issue of workplace violence undoubtedly requires attention: from the 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia to the 2019 International Labour Organisation Recommendation 206 and Convention 190 call for a world of work free from violence and harassment. South Africa’s National Development Plan, too, confirms every person’s right to a working life that is conducive to productivity and embraces freedom, equality, human dignity and security. Nevertheless, South African employers and lawmakers remain sluggish in their response.
This article adds momentum to the process (i) by defining workplace violence, and bullying and (sexual) harassment as forms thereof; (ii) by discussing the double punch of bullying/harassment and depression; and (iii) by establishing whether the South African legal framework sufficiently provides for bullied and harassed employees, particularly also those who consequently/already suffer from depression.
Bullying is not recognised as a cause of action under South African law, and the Code of Good Practice on the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases in the Workplace 2005 , while commendable , has no legal force. Furthermore, although depression may be seen as a disability in certain circumstances requiring reasonable accommodation from the employer, not all instances qualify. Recommendations are made to overcome these and other lacunae in the legal framework. However, since it will take more than laws and codes to ward off the double punch of workplace bullying/harassment and depression, additional measures are proposed, at both the levels of society and employers.