The #MeToo movement sparked off a wildfire of awareness and vocalisation against sexual misconduct across the globe. Fast forward to two years since it has transformed into a platform for vocalising workplace misconduct and has found its mainstay in the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), which came into effect in the year 2014.
In wake of the POHA legislation, a guideline titled, ‘Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment’ was issued as an extension of the Act. According to the legislation:
Harassment refers to - “behaviour that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to another party. Such behaviour 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.”
Comprehensive practices in terms of policymaking from the employer’s end are an absolute must for employees who wish to seek regulatory relief in case of an untoward incident of either mental, physical or emotional nature.
Build an effective framework for grievance redressal
An organisation must ensure a watertight mechanism whereby, when such an incident comes to light, it is scrutinised to its logical conclusion.
Following the laws, a victim of alleged harassment can either seek civil remedies or monetary damages. The organisation has to take on an active role in guiding the victim with due respect and sensitivity through the legal process while ensuring corrective measures in extreme cases.
A watertight framework inspires swift and appropriate initial response to both the parties (the accuser and accused) followed by the initiation of an investigation. This further assures the employee as well as the rest of the workforce that their employer is both empathetic and in favour of prompt action. This faith will also encourage employees to resolve conflicts internally before resorting to external complaints or legal measures.
Reiterate zero-tolerance through well-drafted, ironclad policies
Ideally speaking, most workplaces in Singapore already have a comprehensive and transparent policy in place. However, in case the policy may not be per the Employee Act (EA) and other guidelines set apart by the Ministry of Manpower (MoM), it is imperative for the organisation to ensure compliance.
Revisiting policies and ensuring that they are up to code becomes imperative in today’s time, especially with the emergence of ‘gig economy’. It may so happen that the previous anti-discrimination and anti-sexual harassment policies of an organisation do not offer protection to the rights of self-employed individuals as well as freelancers who may collaborate with the organisation.
A well-drafted policy might run into more than three pages and is written in language that resonates with the company values. It should include clear definitions of harassment and its types and also contain examples of scenarios that would constitute harassment.
Additionally, it must provide a detailed description of the rights of employees, disciplinary actions, legal remedies, the company’s investigation policy details and most importantly the company’s assurance to protect the confidentiality of complaints.
Involve employees in the process of policymaking
Organisations worldwide are sitting on a treasure trove of untapped potential – their employees. These individuals don’t only add to the workplace culture milieu but also come with a formidable arsenal of ideas, experiences and knowledge. When an organisation opens up the floor to the employees, it boosts engagement and cements empowerment across the workforce.
Employers can start as small as rolling out simple surveys and can move on ahead to conducting focus group discussions and detailed personal interviews. Active involvement of the employees will open up communication channels, decrease the gap between them and the management and will promote feelings of contribution to the organisational wellbeing.
Employers stand to gain equally from this practice as they will get access to data and information that is relevant, conclusive and in direct correlation with creating better-informed policies.
Ensure representation in policymaking panels
Employers have increasingly begun to go for more inclusivity in terms of employee representation wherever it counts. Equal participation of males and females belonging to the different age groups, races and ethnic backgrounds that make up the workforce would only add to the diversity of voices in decision-making and policy-making positions. Furthermore, it strengthens the sense of belonging among employees and fosters better peer-to-peer bonds as well as a robust network within the company.
The way an organisation reacts to a harassment or discrimination complaint does not only have legal or financial implications; it also reflects on the reputation of the company. A thriving workplace is one that addresses a change of mindset of its employees to ensure compliance with such policies. Additionally, organisations must take a step further by putting relevant, all-encompassing and measurable practices for effective policies in a holistic workplace ecosystem.