Sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment generally is a pervading problem and workplace sexual harassment is prominent aspect of sexual harassment. According to a report in 2016 by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunities Commission) Select Task Force on the study of harassment in the workplace, 60% of women said they’ve experienced workplace sexual harassment. This is not to say that women are the only targets of workplace harassment, Men can be victims as well although women remain the primary targets.

The issue of sexual harassment has consequences both on the individual and society such as decreased work performance, increased absenteeism from work, violent/hostile behavior in the workplace, shame, guilt etc.


What is a “Right”?

Laws and even contracts empower individuals and groups with certain benefits, privileges and exclusivities. Such benefits and privileges become entitlements of their owners and their owners can approach courts of law to protect and preserve their entitlements. Rights are the entitlements of persons, groups or corporate beings, whether created by law or agreement. Among rights are fundamental human rights, which are basic rights of any human being in any part of the world. This includes, the right to be alive, right not to be tortured, dehumanized or sexually violated and the right not to be detained, among others.


What is “Sexual Harassment”?

Like any other property and affairs of man, the body of any human being is the person’s own property and should not be violated, trespassed or accessed without clear consent. Any pressure, intimidation or attempt to undermine the body, senses or perception of a person in any form (verbally, physically, emotionally or otherwise) for sexual benefit is sexual harassment. It is unwanted sexual advances and insinuation. As will be seen shortly, sexual harassment is a criminal offence in any part of Nigeria.

Sexual harassment is “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or other conduct based on sex or gender which is persistent, serious and demeans, humiliates or creates a hostile or intimidating environment and this may include physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct.”

The above definition can be found in section 46 of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (popularly known as the VAPP Act). Note that it is operational only in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and many states across Nigeria have enacted similar state laws (including, Plateau, Benue, Cross-Rivers, Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Edo and Lagos).




Where is a “Workplace”?

Where is a “Workplace”?

In an ever-evolving world, work, play and life generally have greatly transformed. Prior to this day, workplace would have simply been a place of work but this has expanded with the realities of today, where work is performed remotely, workers have no physical location and cyberspace is the new building. It is safe to describe a workplace to cover physical and non-physical, immediate and remote platforms for execution of duties, often under some terms of employment. This covers all works and workers in specific buildings, remote networks and even social media platforms as well as shared taxis and hotels. This is our new reality of work and work space.

According to the Oxford Advanced  Learners Dictionary, a workplace is an office, factory etc. where people work. A workplace is also seen as a person’s place of employment. (Source:

For the purpose of bringing an action in court, other work-related places and events like work trips, work parties and get together, business lunch/dinner can form parts and parcel of the workplace.

Going by the literal interpretation of a workplace it means a place where employees work, this could be anywhere and includes e.g. working in a house as a domestic help, as a driver, or in a formal establishment as a cleaner etc. The Nigerian “Labor Act” is the local federal legislation that regulates employment matters in Nigeria. The scope of the law covers domestic workers and apprentices aside from employees working in formal establishments. See part three of the Nigerian Labor Act for  provisions on apprentices, female workers, young persons and other classes covered therein.

(STU v JKL (Qld) Pty Ltd [2016] QCAT 505 (6 December 2016)

This case involves a female hotel worker who awoke in her hotel room, provided by her employer, to find the hotel’s night caretaker naked in her room and making unsolicited advances. Arguments were made by the defense that the harassment did not occur during the course of employment, the tribunal before which the matter was brought held that proven sexual assault by one employee on another in employer-provided accommodation constituted sexual harassment.

This is a judgment of the Supreme Court of Queensland. Although it is not binding on Nigeria, it is persuasive.

Where in a workplace location (physically or remotely) or building on a workplace relationship, a desire for sexual affairs is pursued recklessly or without courtesy and consent, rather with an intention to pressurize and intimidate the victim, that is workplace sexual harassment.


The scope of this guide

The surge in workplace sexual harassment has prompted this research, designed to highlight relevant Nigerian and international laws against workplace sexual harassment affecting women, punishments for offenders, protection and remedies for victims, routes to justice, tips for prosecution of offenders and available legal aids and support groups.

The scope of this guide is limited to laws in Nigeria as well as international instruments that are operational in Nigeria. Decisions of superior courts in Nigeria are evaluated in interpreting the positions of laws and assessing available remedies to victims. However, this guide does not cover sexual harassment in all spheres of Nigeria generally, rather as it affects workplace.

This guidebook is not intended to be a substitute for any professional legal advice and does not have any formal legal status. Information contained this guidebook are valid as at the date of publication, and any subsequent change in law, policies and forms are not considered.



This guide was put together by a team of Lawyers, CSO experts and Law students in Partnership with NULAI and sponsored by Action4Justice.

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