A Legal Look at Workplace Harassment
According to the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment, the following is the immediate effect of harassment:
“Workplace harassment can violate a person’s dignity or create an unfavourable work environment for him/her, which poses a risk to a person’s safety and health.”
Employers in every company, across the Singaporean workplace ecosystem, roll out comprehensive anti-harassment policies in line with the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) directives. While outlining the rules in print is imperative for a conducive professional environment, paying attention to legal measures is equally important.
Protection from Harassment Act, 2014
This Act has come into effect to protect all persons against any type of workplace misconduct, unlawful stalking and harassment. It comprises several civil remedies and criminal sanctions that an affected individual can opt for in order to seek protection.
The primary objective here, is to protect people from all types of harassment and anti-social behaviour at the workplace that may result in a hostile environment for the individual at the receiving end.
Availability of legal remedies
Per the Asia Employment Law, in case of an incident of workplace harassment, the aggrieved party can seek a protection order or monetary damages.
At the same time, criminal fines, up to SD$ 5,000 will be levied against the perpetrator. There is also a provision for imprisonment of fewer than 12 months. It is possible for both sanctions to be imposed on first-time offenders. However, of course, such punishment can be intensified for repeat offenders.
Measures that an employer can resort to
In addition to the Protection from Harassment, employers can also follow the guidelines enlisted in the Penal Code of Singapore. If and when an employee seeks intervention from HR or upper management, for a harassment complaint, one of the prudent routes to follow is –
Have a comprehensive policy and directives in place to begin the investigation.
Maintain due diligence in terms of confidentiality, neutrality, non-retaliation, complete accountability and documentation.
Take prompt and relevant action through the corresponding response procedures.
In case an employee wishes to seek any medical or mental help, the organisation can cover the same by compensating them under the Work Injury Compensation Act.
Measures that an employee can resort to
Affected individuals who have been victims of workplace harassment can choose to:
Deal with the harasser
When a situation of misconduct is happening, the victim can choose to diffuse it or resolve it on their own with the harasser. They can do this through stern warnings, assertive behaviour and documentation of evidence (e.g. keeping a record of photographs, messages, etc.). However, it’s very important to note that this route should be taken when it is safe and reasonable to do so. Additionally, this should be the individual’s choice and should not be the result of intimidation from employers just to sweep the matter under the carpet.
Seek informal help
In case the affected person feels discomfort in dealing with the issue on their own, they are advised to seek informal or formal intervention. They can choose to confront the harasser with a trusted colleague or seek guidance from a trained professional to deal with such a crisis. Having a third-party present can become a cause for a more reasonable and receptive response from the harasser.
Seek formal help
In case an affected person does not get the desired outcomes, they must report the encounter to the HR, management or any other neutral party. According to the anti-harassment, when such an incident is reported, the organization must respond clearly and promptly. It is the most judicious manner to take appropriate action.
Organizations today cannot afford to remain oblivious to harassment, as it is a very real problem. Employees have the right to feel safe and secure in the space that they spend most of their time. Higher levels of anxiety amongst employees contribute to disruption in productivity and can lead to dismal morale of the overall workforce. As employers are the benefactors of workplace collaboration, it is their responsibility to confirm that it happens in a healthy, safe and productive manner.