How do Harassment Laws Affect your Company?

How do Harassment Laws Affect your Company?

Protection from Harassment Act

Prior to 2014, there were very few easily identifiable laws on harassment in Singapore. In November 2014, The Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) was passed as a landmark legislation, and is now the main body of law protecting people who have become the targets of harassment or stalking, both online and physically.

Under POHA, harassment is described as actions ‘involving threatening, abusive or insulting words, behaviours or communications. Such behaviours may be actionable if a) it is meant to cause you harassment, alarm or distress or b) is likely to cause you these feelings and you heard or saw the offending behaviours or words’.

With the recognition of harassment laws under a formal legislation, there is a renewed focus on workplace harassment.

In view of the broadened reach of the Act, it is important that companies ensure that their anti-harassment policies comply with the new legislation.

Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment (the “Advisory”)

After POHA was passed, the Advisory was also issued by a committee comprising government stakeholders, unions, employers and subject matter experts to provide authoritative guidance for employers on addressing workplace harassment.

Although the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment is not technically law, it may have legal implications as it prescribes what companies and their staff should do to address and prevent workplace harassment. This may affect a company’s duty of care to provide its employees with a safe place of work.

Recommendations

As a facet of POHA, the Advisory recommends that employers adopt the following practices:

  1. Develop a harassment prevention policy

Employers should develop a formal policy which prohibits harassment and also ensures recourse in the case of harassment at the workplace. The policy should be developed in consultation with workers in the organisation/the unions (if any)

  1. Provide information and training on workplace harassment

It is important to ensure that harassment is taken seriously at all levels of the organisation. Thus employers are encourage to train their employees, especially the HR, line managers and supervisors to handle harassment cases. Employers can also consider establishing a support group or engaging professionals to provide counselling services and support to affected persons.

  1. Implement reporting and response procedures (grievance handling)

Employers should develop the following procedures, where practicable, to handle any potential workplace harassment issues:

  • Harassment reporting line to ensure timely reporting
  • Investigation procedures to ensure fair treatment of workplace harassment issues
  • Closure to prevent recurrence of incident

Employers should ensure that employees are aware of these procedures, and are able to utilise them easily.

Given that workplaces are rapidly becoming more diverse, cultural differences may lead to different conceptions of what is acceptable workplace behaviour. It is thus critical that companies trains their staff on recognizing what constitutes harassment, who to turn to when a problem arises, and the company’s zero-tolerance policy against harassment.

In our experience we have found that clear policies and procedures on workplace harassment is the key to effective resolutions of harassment incidents, and a strong signal that the company cares about the safety of its employees.

Dealing with Sexual Harassment

Dealing with Sexual Harassment

 What Constitutes Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined as behaviour of a sexual nature that is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to another party (Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment).

Workplace sexual harassment is not limited to the confines of an office environment. Any misconduct during a work-related activity such as a company function, corporate event, team-building exercise, or out-of-town business trip can constitute sexual harassment. AWARE’s 2008 Research Study on Workplace Sexual Harassment found that 20% of sexual harassment incidents occurred outside the office but during work-related business activities like office parties, lunch outings, client entertainment or team-building events.

The harassers need not necessarily be colleagues at work; they can be clients, suppliers, or peers from outside the company.

Harmless flirting between consensual parties is NOT sexual harassment. However, when the feelings are no longer mutual and one party persists even though the other party makes it clear that he or she is no longer interested, the other party may be deemed to have crossed the line.

Sexual harassment can consist of repeated or singular acts that cause the victim(s) to feel uncomfortable and unsafe. It can be verbal, visual and/or physical:

  1. Verbal Sexual Harassment refers to sexually suggestive remarks, or obscene or insulting sounds. It includes unwelcome and offensive names or terms of endearment such as ‘honey bun’ or ‘boobsy’. Other examples of sexual harassment include:
    • Cat calls, kissing sounds, howling and smacking lips
    • Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions
    • Referring to an adult as a girl, hunk, doll, babe, or honey
    • Whistling at someone
    • Sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy or looks
    • Turning work discussions to sexual topics
    • Sexual innuendos or stories
    • Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences or history
    • Telling lies or spreading rumours about a person’s personal sex life.
  2. Visual Sexual Harassment is an assault to the sense of sight where someone exposes his or her private parts or repeatedly stares at another person’s body parts in a way that is offensive or uncomfortable for that person. Being made to look at sexually explicit images or being shown obscene sexual gestures may constitute sexual harassment. Some examples of visual sexual harassment are:
    • Obscene or unwanted sexual looks or gestures
    • Unwanted letters, telephone calls, or materials of a sexual nature
    • Emails, text messages, lewd wallpapers or screen savers on computers, nude calendars.
  3. Physical Sexual harassment is the act of being brushed against, hugged, kissed or touched in any way that is unwelcome and discomforting. It could also refer to being forced to touch someone. Some examples of sexual harassment are:
    • Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault
    • Unwanted pressure for sexual favours
    • Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching
    • Unwanted pressure for dates
    • Touching an employee’s clothing, hair or body in an inappropriate and non-consensual manner
    • Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person
    • Making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements.

Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment

There are two types of sexual harassment:

  • Quid pro quo harassment refers to sexual blackmail, where the harasser demands sexual favours, forcing the recipient to choose between acceding to lewd requests or risk losing out on salary increases, promotions or even the job itself. This is an example of power play at work and an abuse of authority.

  • Hostile Sexual Environment is created when the behaviour of management or co-workers causes severe stress to the employee, rendering him or her unable to reasonably perform his or her tasks adequately. An example would be lewd sexual actions, manners or pictures exhibited, tolerated and supported by management or co-workers.

Effects of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Victims of sexual harassment feel intimidated, ashamed, angry and humiliated, and find it difficult to continue working under such circumstances. Sexual harassment may be traumatic for some and leave long term psychological effects.

Sexual harassment creates an unhealthy working environment.  Employees’ morale is affected and work productivity decreases when employees are distracted by emotional or psychological abuse and concerns about their job security.

Support for Victim 

It is important for victims of sexual harassment to process their feelings about their experience. Sexual harassment can be traumatic and may give rise to long term adverse psychological effects. Victims of harassment may experience a range of emotions, including confusion, humiliation, fear, anger, isolation and guilt.

For advice on how victims can deal with a harasser in the workplace, visit AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre website.

Statistics on Workplace Sexual Harassment

Statistics on Workplace Sexual Harassment

Statistics

Introduction

The issue of workplace sexual harassment in Singapore remains for the most part a ‘hidden’ problem. In 2008, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) conducted a survey to address this issue.

Snapshot of Statistics

Their study on 500 respondents and 92 companies reported these findings:

  1. Sexual Harassment is common in the Workplace
    • 54% (272) had experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment.
    • 27% of the 272 respondents experienced harassment by their colleague, while 17% were harassed by their superior.
    • 79% of the victims are women; 21% were men.
    • 12% had received threats of termination if they did no comply with the requests of the sexual harassers.
  2. Sexual Harassment occurs across the board.
    • Both women and men are more likely to have been harassed by the opposite sex, although some have also experienced harassment from the same sex. In AWARE’s survey, 79% of the respondents who reported having experienced workplace sexual harassment were female; 21% were male.
    • Sexual harassment occurs across the board. Most of the harassment is experienced at executive levels, followed by administrative staff. While reports of victimization are fewer, there are incidents of sexual harassment at management and senior management positions.
  3. Awareness of mechanisms for redress within the Workplace
    • 66.6% (333) were not aware of any policies.
    • 50.4% indicated that they were aware of a department or resource person they could approach on sexual harassment.
  4. Industries with high levels of sexual harassment incidents(in no particular order)
    • Business, trade, banking and finance
    • Sales and marketing
    • Hospitality
    • Civil Service
    • Education, lecturing and teaching

Reference:

Research Report on Workplace Sexual Harassment by AWARE