Office politics are not always pleasant and can be very stressful at times, especially when sexual, emotional or physical abuse is involved. Thankfully, the law has put regulations, restrictions and punishments to avoid uncomfortable situations especially in order to protect the weaker party.
Kuwait Penal Law and Kuwait Labor Law have multiple articles that protect the parties involved in such situations, yet it is not always easy to take legal steps as they are ‘corrective’ instead of ‘preventive’ and may require ‘proactive’ measures that might put the weaker side at risk of losing their job. There is no right and wrong answer for such situations but I chose this topic as I think it is important to discuss harassment issues not just legally, but socially and logically. I have kept the entire story, and not just the questions emailed, as I also think it is important for us to share our experiences to let other people know that they aren’t the only ones and that there is something you can do about it.
Correspondence from a reader:
I read your articles in Kuwait Times and I am reaching out to you, hoping that you can help me with my situation. I am a young single woman, who just recently got a job that I deserve. When I first started working my boss sent me Whatsapp messages on multiple occasions saying inappropriate things like how he wants to have sexual intercourse with me and so on. He will then apologize the next day, making me feel very uncomfortable and dreading to go to work. I forgave him and left it at the apology as I did not know what I can do, what would you advice I should have done in such a situation? Can I use Whatsapp conversations at court?
Answer: Like I said, there is no right and wrong answer and with situations like this we need to think logically and not just legally. My advice to anyone being abused to work is to take extreme measures right away, because people that abuse, from my experience, will see how far they can go. They will test you starting with one word here and one word there, to see what they can get away with, and it will not stop at that. If they are doing it to you, they could possibly be doing it to someone else. I have dealt with harassment myself at work when I first started working and I know how it feels, you just do not know what to do. It is especially hard if no else heard the conversation, but in your case you had Whatsapp messages and although Whatsapp messages are usually not used as proof in court, the judge can still take them into account when considering the case.
Now for cases like this, you should go straight to the police station and file a criminal case. Go to the police station closest to you.
A few months later he repeated his behavior, and not knowing what to do, I spoke to him and told him to behave, and that is when he started to threaten me saying he will fire me. I also did not know what to do, could he really fire me? What can I do to prevent such a situation?
Answer: Yes he can fire you, you can be fired at any time, but if you can prove that it was unrightfully done, you can get compensated with three months’ notice, full indemnity and compensation. So you might not be working there anymore, but at least you will be compensated accordingly. In this situation it’s lose-win.
I went to the Kuwaiti partner of the company that I work for and complained and said, I am going to file a formal complaint with police. But he asked me not to do that, stating that my boss has family here and all that and so I did not want to ruin his relationship with his family, so I left it at that. After that, though my boss started to abuse me emotionally by saying I am not working up to the company’s standards, not knowing what to do, I submitted my resignation providing the company with three months’ notice as per Kuwait labor law.
A few days later he called me in for a meeting to discuss my resignation with two other employees present at the discussion. I was honest at the discussion saying the sexual and emotional abuse. This caused him to be angry and he then physically abused me by throwing a heavy object at me. I left the office. The hit my right arm causing it to swell and bruise for more than a week. I reached out again to the Kuwaiti sponsor, and showed him the picture of my leg and said I am going to police. He again requested me not to and I haven’t till now. Can I go to police with the picture of my leg and file a case? If yes, how do I go about this?
Answer: If anyone is being physically abused they need to go to a doctor within 24 hours and ask for a medical report. The doctors will give you the report which you then go with to the police. Pictures a few months later are not considered official proof, even though the judge might take them into account. I suggest you always go to the closest doctor and ask for a report even if you do not plan to file a case.
Also generally speaking, I advise people put in such situations not to feel bad for the consequences, if you are being sexually abused at work, then do not feel bad or ashamed and do not feel sorry for the person abusing you, considering their family. You need to face the issue and how his family reacts is not your fault! So always speak up. If you are afraid, contact other non-profit organizations that provide support. I know not everyone can afford a lawyer, but we live in a civic society and there are plenty of people out there that have experience in such situations and can assist you.