Saudi Arabia: Anti-Harassment Regulations Take Effect

By Sara Khoja © Clyde & Co. LLP February 6, 2020
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Downtown Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

​As the Ministry of Labour and Social Development in Saudi Arabia continues an ambitious program to increase female participation in the workplace, it has also sought to regulate workplace behavior and promote a framework for navigating increasing interaction between men and women in the workplace and public spaces generally.

A big step in this policy was the issuance of anti-harassment regulations in October 2019 which took effect on 21/2/1441, corresponding to Oct. 20, 2019.

The regulations seek to define what behavior amounts to inappropriate behavior, the procedures which should be adopted to investigate complaints of such behavior and the policies to prevent such behavior in the workplace.

Definition of Inappropriate Behavior

Inappropriate behavior includes all practices of abuse by one party against another, including all forms of exploitation, threats, harassment, extortion, seduction, quarrelling, insulting, hinting against modesty or intent to be alone with the opposite sex, or any other form of abuse which aims, leads to or is likely to cause a physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm to the other party. Such behaviors could be used by any forms of communication whether it was by words, action, writing, signals, hinting, drawing, using the telephone, electronic means or any other means of communication, or any form of behavior that indicates this.

Scope of Regulation

The regulations seek to cover inappropriate behavior carried out by:

  • Employers against employees (in this case, the complaint will be submitted to the governmental authorities).
  • An employee against the employer.
  • An employee against another employee.
  • An employee against any other person who is in the workplace during or due to work.
  • Anyone who helped or covered up the abuse.

The regulations apply, whether the behavior took place in or outside work hours, during break times and in work areas, during travel times to and from work, or during business trips, business calls and other times connected to work, such as office social events.

Anti-Harassment Policy

The regulations require employers to take steps to prevent inappropriate behavior by doing the following:

  • Preventing employees from being alone with the opposite sex by placing sign boards in the workplace, having meeting room etiquette procedures and designing the office environment in a way which prevents this.
  • Establishing a complaints procedure and identifying the person responsible for overseeing this. The resolution provides for a timeframe of five working days from the incident in which a complaint must be raised.
  • Putting measures in place which safeguard the right for the employee to leave the workplace in the event the employee feels an imminent and serious threat to their body, health or life due to abuse.
  • Safeguarding the abused employee's rights, specifically where it is proven that the abuse took place, and the abuse resulted in the employee not benefitting from promotions, bonuses, training courses and other benefits, and putting in place appropriate measures facilitating a claim to legal entitlements in this regard to be made by the employee.
  • Protecting the employment rights of an abused individual who is not working, where it is proven that the abuse took place and as a result the individual has been deprived of a benefit or a service.
  • Safeguarding the accused's rights where the complaint is found to be malicious and such complaint resulted in the accused not benefitting from promotions, bonuses, training courses and other benefits, and putting in place appropriate measures facilitating a claim to legal entitlements in this regard to be made by the accused.
  • Putting in place measures which protect the complainant, witnesses and individuals handling the matter from any harm.
  • Ensuring all matters are kept confidential.
  • Raising awareness among employees as to the importance of reporting inappropriate behavior and the procedure that must be followed.
  • Holding awareness courses, workshops and training; visibly putting in places posters and guidelines; and communicating with employees to raise awareness of their rights, duties and necessary recourse.
  • Involving employees with the development and implementation of policies and procedures surrounding inappropriate behavior, risks associated and how to prevent the same.
  • Considering the social and psychological impact when developing occupational health and safety policies and procedures.
  • Empowering a designated person, team or department to oversee and manage the above and providing appropriate training to such individuals.

Investigations Procedure

The resolution also sets out a section whereby inappropriate behavior should be investigated through the formation of a committee and it sets out a process for the committee to follow.

The employer is responsible for setting up the committee tasked with investigating cases involving behavioral abuse in the workplace, reviewing the evidence and recommending the appropriate disciplinary penalty for those individuals found to be guilty. The following rules and procedures are prescribed by the resolution:

  • Where the employer employs more than 10 employees, the committee is to be formed of a minimum of four members with a minimum of one woman where available. Where the employer employs less than 10, the committee will be formed of the employer—or an authorized person—and where possible another person.
  • The committee will compile a confidential and private file detailing the cases investigated, measures taken, results of the investigations carried out and the recommendations made.
  • Where a committee member is the individual accused of undertaking the abuse or an individual working closely with the committee or the process involved, such individual is required to be immediately excluded from the committee.
  • The committee is required to be fair, impartial and maintain confidentiality, and its members must not have been convicted of a crime in the last five years or be under ethical investigation.
  • Where the accused does not attend in front of the committee by the date stipulated (subject to a maximum of five working days), the committee may impose the penalty stated in the company's bylaws. Where a reasonable excuse for failure to attend is provided and accepted by the committee, the meeting may be rescheduled. This will not result in the investigation being delayed.
  • The committee is required to issue its recommendation within five working days of the complaint being made.
  • Once the recommendation is made, the employer is required to formally inform the accused and the complainant of the outcome, and the sanction within five working days. Any disciplinary sanction must be imposed within 30 days of the investigation's completion.
  • Where the committee determines that the action constitutes a criminal offense, the committee must submit the complaint to the employer, which is required to inform the competent authority.

Documenting the Process

The regulation contains forms which employers can use, and while these are not mandatory the information captured in the forms is required as a minimum in order to document any complaint and investigation properly.

These forms are as follows:

  • Form A for submission of a complaint of behavior abuse. The form also lists types of prohibited behavioral abuse that the complainant must specify as well as a section for the complainant to provide a statement and sign.
  • Form B, which is used for the committee to provide its findings and recommendation following its investigation of the behavioral abuse incident (assault). This form also provides a space for the accused to provide a statement and sign and to record the committee's decision.
  • Form C, which is used to describe the outcome of the investigation and the sanction imposed.

These regulations are a welcome development as the profile of working women in the kingdom increases and women move into all areas of the workforce. While the Ministry of Labour and Social Development has stopped short of removing the requirement for segregation, there is now an acknowledgement that the increased employment of women will mean an increase in public profile for working women.

The regulations must be viewed within the context of the general anti-harassment law introduced around the time women were given permission to drive in June 2018 and the Public Code of Conduct introduced by Resolution 444 of 4/8/1440, just over a year ago.

The public code requires all individuals in the kingdom in public places to respect the customs, culture and traditions of the kingdom and for individuals to wear modest clothing in public, which must not contain words, symbols, signs or images that are contrary to general decency. Writing on walls, means of public transport, on general areas or spaces is also prohibited without prior approval and behavior designed to instill fear or panic is punishable. Violating the code attracts a minimum fine of 5,000 Saudi riyals (approximately $1,333) and may be supplemented by other fines from other government bodies. Individuals may appeal fines.

Sara Khoja is an attorney with Clyde & Co. LLP in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. © 2020 Clyde & Co. LLP. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission of Lexology.

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