The Labour Court has upheld the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants’ (SAICA) decision to fire an employee who sexually harassed a female colleague.
The man, Thandanani Umlaw, reportedly tickled the woman with his beard and gave her a ‘bear’ hug and kisses while they were in an elevator.
The project manager, was found guilty of sexual harassment after he made these advances on October 6, 2017.
According to the victim, known only as Ms S, said that she found Umlaw in an elevator at their SAICA Joburg workplace.
The woman complimented him on his beard. Umlaw responded by saying that he uses his beard to tickle people and went on to show the woman how he does it.
From the demonstrations shown in the court, Umlaw rubbed the beard on her face, following up with a hug and kisses on her neck and face.
The Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) was the first to confirm SAICA’s finding that Umlaw was guilty of sexual harassment.
However, the defendant escalated the matter to the Labour Court. According to the court, Umlaw had even commented that he had “never done this to a white lady before”, sealing his fate.
Ms S said the incident left her feeling violated and it was uncomfortable to work with Umlaw again. Umlaw, who represented himself after struggling to find legal representation, said that his intent was not sexual.
He went on to say that he apologized for his “white lady” joke when he saw the woman again later. According to Umlaw, her reply to the apology was: “Okay, no problem. Thandanani please don’t hug me again, I am literally shaking.”
Judge Edwin Tlhotlhalemaje said he found it difficult to understand how one took a compliment as an invitation to kiss and hug someone.
He said that normal people would respond with a simple “Thank you”. The judge described his behaviour as “sexual harassment in its most reprehensible form”.
She took to Twitter to vent her frustration. She wrote, “Men in my work spaces lack boundaries, lack respect, it’s basically sexual harassment.
These men make us uncomfortable and violate our privacy on these sets, then chuckle when we raise our voices.”