An eye-opener: New sexual harassment code targets eye contact, gossip…

The Code of Good Practice on the Prevention and Elimination of Harassment has officially replaced the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases in the Workplace code and came into effect on Friday 18 March.

What this means for South African employers is that they must protect their staff against certain bullying behaviours that are deemed inappropriate.

This can mean anything from a specific facial expression to a gesture. It also means that those lunchtime gossip sessions in the canteen are off the table.


The new sexual harassment code was published in the Government Gazette and was signed by Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi on 3 March. According to Business Insider, the code was put out for public comment in 2020.

The code covers domestic workers, those who work from home and any place an employer may control. Harassment from bosses, colleagues, visitors and clients is also covered.


The code covers racial harassment, innuendos and stereotyping based on race which could be considered “offensive and unwanted”.

Employers could get into big trouble for surveilling their employees and also failing to stop fellow colleagues from spreading “malicious” rumours about each other.

The code also dives into “passive-aggressive or covert harassment”.


“Passive-aggressive or covert harassment” in the workplace covers the following:

  • Negative joking at someone else’s expense
  • Sarcasm
  • Condescending eye contact
  • Facial expression
  • Gestures
  • Mimicking to ridicule
  • Deliberately cursing embarrassment and insecurity
  • Invisible treatment
  • Marginalisation
  • Social exclusion
  • Professional isolation
  • Deliberately sabotaging someone’s dignity, happiness, success and career performance.

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