This article discusses the Russian treatment of workplace harassment cases with reference to two recent cases.
By: Irina Anyukhina and Anastasia Petrova
Under Russian legislation there is no legal definition of harassment and there are no comprehensive guidelines in relation to how it should be dealt with. Practically, some of the most obvious features of harassment include: threats, requirements or demands for sexual services in exchange for continued employment or an enhanced professional role. In addition, harassment can include offensive jokes, jokes in relation to sexual features, requests of a sexual nature and more.
In the context of labour relations, employees may be protected from harassment by an employer by the legal regulations on non-discrimination.
In other situations, harassment can fall under the provisions of the Russian Criminal Code, which contains an article outlawing ‘Coercion to Commit Sexual Acts’. Coercion to commit sexual acts is a criminal offence, meaning active behaviour, expressed in the form of physically forcing, pressurising or blackmailing a person to take part in sexual acts against their will, or attempting to do so.
Two recent cases from the Russian courts are helpful in illustrating current judicial practice on harassment.
The translator case
An employee worked as a translator in a company. She was dismissed due to repeatedly failing to fulfil her employment duties. She then filed a claim for reinstatement. One of the elements of the claim was a demand for compensation of moral damage in the amount of RUB 1 million (approximately EUR 12 550) for sexual harassment. She supposed that her supervisor harassed her at the workplace. However, she was only able to provided verbal explanations to the court and did not offer any pieces of factual evidence of sexual harassment. The court pointed that the employee’s words were not backed up by any evidence. As a result, the court refused the employee’s request for compensation of moral harm, stating that the fact of sexual harassment was not proved.
The allegations on the Internet case
A female employee accused one of male fellow employee’ representatives of sexual harassment and filed a claim to the police. She also released a copy of the claim to the mass media (using internet resources). Information about the employer’s sexual harassment claim was then published in the article on the mass media website. When the employer’s representative found out, he filed a claim with the courts demanding that the information relating to the harassment allegation be deleted, since, he claimed, it did not reflect reality. The employer’s representative also claimed compensation for moral damage caused by the dissemination of this information.
The court held that the employee had failed to provide appropriate evidence to confirm the sexual harassment by the employer’s representative had taken place. In addition, the police did not find there had been any illegality in the employer’s behaviour. The court therefore declared that since there was no evidence, the employee’s allegations did not reflect reality. As a result, the court ruled that the information must be deleted from the website. In addition, the employee was obliged to compensate the employer’s representative for moral damages.
Current practice in Russia demonstrates that the number of harassment claims is increasing. However courts and investigation authorities take a very formal approach to such cases and often refuse victim’s claims on the grounds that victims are not able to provide sufficient evidence of harassment, such as witnesses testimony, or audio and video records.