In an exclusive interview with The Filipino Times Online, Atty. Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law, explained some aspects of sexual harassment in the workplace in the UAE.
In recent reports, a 37-year-old Filipina in Dubai (name withheld) also filed a harassment lawsuit against a hotel manager who allegedly placed his hand on her back and groped her twice on December 12, 2017.
Atty. Almazar said that in UAE jurisprudence, there is no specific criminal offence of sexual harassment. However, any unwelcome sexual misconduct that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment could be prosecuted as an offence under the UAE Penal Code.
In most cases, he said, the perpetrator will be given six months to a year in prison and a fine up to Dh10,000.
“If the offender is convicted for violating Article 359 of the UAE Penal Code, the penalty is imprisonment for a period not exceeding 1 year and a fine not exceeding Dh10,000 or either of these two penalties.”
Here are some important legal points from the Filipino lawyer on sexual harassment:
Atty. Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law
How does the UAE law define sexual harassment and its forms?
Articles 358 and 359 of the UAE Penal Code respectively provide that:
Whoever openly commits an indecent and disgraceful act shall be punished by detention for a period of at least six months.
Whoever commits a disgraceful act with a girl or boy who has not completed fifteen years of age even if it is not committed openly, shall be punished by detention for at least a period of one year.
Whoever attempts to disgrace a female by words or by deeds in a public street or frequented place, shall be punished by detention for a period not exceeding one year and by a fine not exceeding ten thousand Dirhams, or by either of these two penalties.
The same penalty shall apply to any man who disguises himself in a woman’s clothing and enters a place the entry into which is reserved for women. If a man in such a case commits a crime, it shall be considered an aggravating circumstance.
If a Filipina is employed at a corporate company and was assaulted by a co-worker, should she report the case first to HR? Will it be a prerogative before filing a criminal complaint?
The victim can directly file a complaint with the police. The HR procedure is separate and is not a prerequisite to file a criminal case.
How can a Filipina file a criminal complaint in the UAE?
She should file the criminal complaint at the police station having jurisdiction where the harassment took place. The complaint shall set out the incident that occurred and the events pertaining to the criminal offense committed. It may be filed in writing, which must be translated in Arabic and signed by the complainant or by way of an oral statement before the police.
If there is incitement or seduction into committing debauchery, Articles 360 to 370 of the UAE Penal Code may apply.
These provisions ensure protection for women against acts of sexual harassment at the workplace.
What is the punishment, and/or fine for offenders?
If the offender is convicted for violating Article 359 of the UAE Penal Code, the penalty is imprisonment for a period not exceeding 1 year and a fine not exceeding AED 10,000 or either of these two penalties.
In your years of stay in the UAE as a lawyer, what advise do you give them, especially among Filipinas?
Sexual harassment is an unwelcome advances. If the woman consents to it, it is not considered as harassment.
Therefore, the victim confront the harasser and tell him to stop. This will work most of the time if the advancements are in the form of jokes, inappropriate comments suggesting sex or repeated requests for dates.
If the matter has become more serious, despite making it clear that the acts are unwelcome, a demand letter may be served to the harasser ordering him to cease and desist from the acts being complained of.
The victim may also file a formal complaint with the company if the acts took place at workplace.
I encourage victims to speak up and not be afraid of filing a case against their offender. Everyone is a possible victim of sexual assault. Sexual assault may be committed against a man or a woman.
Your advise to OFWs if they experience sexual harassment here
If you had an experience of sexual harassment or experiencing sexual harassment, you should speak up and defend your rights. You may approach your employer if the sexual harassment is committed in your workplace or go directly to the police to file a complaint.
ABOUT Atty. Barney Almazar: He holds a UAE legal consultancy license and is a lifetime member of the Philippine Bar.
He was awarded as one of Philippines’ The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) for law and commended by the Philippine Senate in 2015 for his contribution in protecting the interests of more than 3 million overseas Filipinos in the Middle East.
Atty. Almazar also holds monthly free legal aid at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Philippine Consulate in Dubai.