Anti-harassment laws: Impact on HR
Singapore has passed new anti-harassment laws that seek to protect people from harassment, distress, and anti-social behaviour.
The public has been heartened by the enactment of the new Protection from Harassment Act. The National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) is has welcomed the new measures. “I believe this Act will provide a deterrent effect to would-be perpetrators especially or workplace bullies, and provide victims with recourse and closure to their fears, grief and distress,” says Patrick Tay, Assistant Secretary-General, NTUC, who is also director of the organisation’s Legal Services Department and PME (Professionals, Managers and Executives) Unit.
The Act will also add a layer of much needed protection to those working in the public sector, shielding the from threats, insults and abuse, Tay tells HRM. “This list of ‘public service workers’ will start with the public healthcare and public transport sectors. Hopefully, the list will grow to include other public service workers such as private security officers and enforcement officers,” he adds.
Organisations need to be aware that the new Protection From Harassment Act will have an impact on HR issues at the workplace, says Lionel Tan, Partner, Rajah & Tann. “HR policies should ensure that employees are made aware of activities that may constitute harassment under the law, (and that) may result in criminal prosecution or a civil claim. HR policies should thus make it clear that the organisation has low tolerance for behaviour which may breach the Act,” he advises.
In formulating policies, organisations could give guidance on what type of conduct are deemed as harassment (see box). “There could also be some training given to employees to better educate them on what type of behaviour would not be tolerated at the workplace, Tan says.
Tay advises companies to establish a Code of Practice encompassing reporting, complaint procedures, and detailed guidelines to deal pro-actively with such issues. “Many companies that operate across jurisdictions with similar laws, like in the UK and US, would already have such procedures entrenched in their HR and staff policies. It is therefore useful for companies to pick a leaf from them,” he says.
Some common forms of harassment in Singapore workplaces include verbal abuse and stalking. There is also sexual harassment, which includes unwelcome physical contact, sexual comments or requests for sexual favours.
“Increasingly, in our electronically connected workplace, there are instances of online harassment. These could be conducted either through emails or instantaneous messaging systems or even through social media platforms,” Tan tells HRM.
The new law also covers harassment in cyberspace, including online sexual harassment and cyber-bullying.
Companies that have established their own Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policies should take particular caution, says Tan. The concern is that sometimes, the individual employee may be engaging in activities which are not consistent with the organisation’s policies. Hence, it is important that in the BYOD policy, there should be some explanation of the anti-harassment laws and in particular, how it applies to online issues, such as online harassment or cyber-stalking, says Tan.
Employees should also be made aware that if they are using their own individual personal devices, whatever they may do online can still be considered subject to the anti-harassment law, Tan says. “This may not only impact the employee but may cause reputational damage to the organisation.”
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According to the new Protection from Harassment Act, the following situations could constitute harassment:
Intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress
“X and Y are co-workers. At the workplace, X loudly and graphically describes to the other co-workers X’s desire for a sexual relationship with Y in an insulting manner. X knows that Y is within earshot and intends to cause Y distress. Y is distressed. X is guilty of an offence under this section.”
“Y repeatedly sends emails to Y’s subordinate X with suggestive comments about X’s body”
“Y sends flowers to X daily even though X has asked Y to stop doing so”
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