Harassment at the Workplace – What Women in Singapore Need To Know

We are very honoured to have Kenneth G Pereire onboard the advisory board for Girls in Tech Singapore. Kenneth is an Associate Director in the Corporate & Commercial Practice of Consilium Law Corporation. His focus areas are in Mergers & Acquisitions (“M&A”) transactions in Singapore and ASEAN and securities regulatory work. He also has considerable experience in assisting technology companies with their legal needs including capital raising documentation, commercial agreements, structuring advice and compliance. Kenneth has generously took sometime to share some advice for women in workplaces. We hope you enjoy the informative read and welcome aboard, Kenneth!

There are more and more cases of workplace harassment occurring in Singapore.   Workplace harassment occurs when one party displays intimidation, aggression, violence or harasses another party. Many victims of workplace harassment choose to suffer in silence and many cases go unreported. Sadly, many of the victims of workplace harassment are women.

Legislation in Singapore has traditionally only focused on safeguarding the physical environment of the workplace. For example, the Workplace Safety and Health Act Cap. 354A was enacted in 2006 to protect the safety, health and welfare of employees at the workplace and focused on ensuring a safe physical environment for employees.

Women who encountered other forms of emotional abuse and sexual harassment often had to rely on their respective company grievance reporting policy or internal framework in order to address a grievance. The outcome of the investigation often resulted in one party resigning from his or her position. It was never a practical nor effective solution to the problem.

A new phenomenon today (in the age of information technology) is for workplace harassment to take place via whatsapp, blackberry messenger service, office messaging services and social media as employees take to social media platforms and handheld communication devices in their interactions with colleagues.

The result of this is that we are witnessing more and more cases of sexual discrimination, abusive behaviour (physical and mental), discrimination (concerning race, gender, sexual and transgender orientation) and cyber bullying via information technology platforms.

In view of this, employers in Singapore have been encouraged to develop an internal framework within organizations to manage these new challenges including adopting a zero tolerance approach, devising an effective harassment prevention policy (to be incorporated, for example, into a company’s employee handbook), training on workplace harassment and abuse and proper reporting procedures (for harassment reporting) and whistleblowing policies.

The Protection from Harassment Act Cap.256A (“POHA”) that came into force in November 2014 was a timely piece of legislation. It intended to provide civil and criminal remedies in order to safeguard individuals against harassment and related anti-social behaviour in the new environment.

Aggrieved persons today may lodge a police report if they believe an offence has been committed under the POHA (in addition to lodging a report with their HR or superior at the workplace). Civil remedies available to the aggrieve persons includes obtaining a Protection Order (PO) and Expedited Protection Order (EPO) in a situation where harassment or abuse is likely to persist.

The aggrieved person may also consider commencing a civil suit for monetary compensation. Singapore law allows for both civil and criminal actions to be commenced concurrently.

It is hoped that the POHA will provide an additional avenue for aggrieved individuals to resolve workplace harassment issues and provide a practical and effective solution to problems encountered at the workplace. It was reported that between 15 November 2014 and 7 January 2015 alone (in the first two months of the POHA coming into force) that there were already 79 Magistrate’s Complaint for harassment relating to criminal cases! More and more women in Singapore will likely seek recourse under the POHA in the coming years. It is hoped that this additional safeguard will mitigate and reduce the number of cases of workplace harassment against women.

Have more questions for Kenneth? Please feel free to leave a comment or reach us at [email protected]

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