DURBAN – ASTRON Energy, also known as Caltex, has been accused of failing to take steps to protect an employee who claimed she was sexually harassed and victimised by her manager.
Its human resources department is also accused of protecting the alleged perpetrator, who continued reporting for work despite allegations against him.
The Daily News has a report which was commissioned by Astron Energy that reveals the nature and the extent of the alleged abuse.
In a letter addressed to former company chief executive Jonathan Molapa, the victim laid bare how her victimisation led to doctors recommending medical intervention when her health took a turn for the worse.
“She said that she had been admitted to the Helderberg Clinic for anxiety and depression because of the trauma she had been put through at work and asserted that two different psychologists had referred her to a psychiatric hospital,” read the report.
The evidence contained in the report further revealed that the alleged sexual harassment and victimisation dated back to October 2020, when the victim’s boss David Sempe was appointed as an acting manager and needed to work and communicate directly with the victim, who at the time was working from home because of Covid-19.
The report further stated that Sempe and another male employee allegedly made suggestive gestures and remarks, such as poking out their tongue.
“The aggrieved employee also accuses him (the male employee) of becoming flirty, of making suggestive remarks and gestures to her, like blowing kisses and poking out his tongue (suggestively), at the same time asking her if this was harassment.
“He sent the aggrieved employee a message asking: ‘Why after talking to you, why do I feel so horny?’ She dealt with this at the time by stating ‘Didn’t you have enough time with your girlfriend this weekend?’ The aggrieved employee states she felt she was being set up.
When she was required to make a submission of information in writing to Sempe, he made the comment: “I can’t believe anyone as beautiful as you has writing like this,” read the report.
It also indicated that the said employee, who witnessed the incident, was present during another incident. “The direct manager came again, laughing, and said ‘I can’t get over this, someone as beautiful as you are.’ I replied by saying ‘Maybe I should have been a doctor.’ ”
Contacted for comment, Sempe declined, stating that company policy did not allow for him to speak to the media. When told that Astron Energy had responded, he said he supported their response.
The victim first laid a formal harassment grievance on February 5 this year, with evidence and events going back to October 2020.
Details of the report stated that the victim laid another complaint against her direct manager and alleged that the matter was not being dealt with correctly and that the company was protecting her abuser.
The report stated that she feared for her life as she was further victimised by the human resources partner who is allegedly an ally of the victim’s boss.
She claimed that both the area manager and HR failed to assure her of her safety and she was accused of only reporting the harassment as an excuse for not wanting to return to the office.
The HR partner told the Daily News she would not comment on the matter and advised the paper to speak directly to the company’s communications officer.
Astron Energy media and communication adviser Suzanne Pullinger said: “Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, Astron Energy’s approach is to act in the strictest confidence and we, therefore, cannot divulge any further details.
“Astron Energy is committed to providing a safe and ethical workplace for all employees, and we uphold the highest ethical standards in terms of our Company Code of Conduct. We have a stringent anti-harassment policy that prohibits any form of harassment or unfair discrimination, including on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other grounds.”
The report indicated that the victim appealed to Molapa, asking to be heard. “She needs someone to take her seriously and for the company to live up to its value of creating a safe working place.”
“The aggrieved employee states in the letter that she is reliant on anti-depressants. She has mentioned her mental health state to the area manager and the HR Partner, but she alleges they ignored her and made condescending comments about it.”