Addressing workplace harassment in Singapore - a guide for managers

By Robert Half on 16 May 2022
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes

A study found Singapore to be the second worst country for workplace diversion and inclusivity.

The study, carried out by data analytics and consulting company Kantar, also found that nearly a quarter of Singapore workers said they had been bullied at their workplace in the past year.

Additionally, according to a joint study carried out by market research firm Ipsos and gender equality organisation Aware, 2 in 5 workers in Singapore have faced workplace sexual harassment.

What’s more, 1 in 3 of those who faced harassment did so at the hands of their boss or someone more senior than them in the office.

And, by contrast, 1 in 3 victims of workplace harassment in Singapore reported the harassment to an official authority at their office.

Related: How to create a healthy workplace environment in Singapore

What is workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment is an umbrella term encompassing workplace discrimination, bullying, assault, and sexual harassment and assault. Discrimination in this regard might be on the basis of gender and gender identity, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, marital status, maternity status, disability, and appearance.

Additionally, it is important to note that verbal harassment – both discriminatory or sexual in nature – is still harassment. And work-related events and the online environment are both equally important settings within which harassment can occur.

In Singapore, workplace harassment is a criminal offence under the Protection from Harassment Act (2014). Offenders can be fined up to $5,000 (SGD) and face jail time of up to six months.

Why is it important for companies in Singapore to address workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment incidents make the workplace an uncomfortable and toxic environment for employees. Additionally, several studies have shown workplace harassment decreases employee productivity levels and leads to poor overall employee well-being. Specifically, workplace harassment can lead to increased distress, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

In terms of overall legal ramifications associated with workplace harassment, it is in the best interest of both the victim of workplace harassment and the organisation that incidents of harassment are taken seriously and dealt with swiftly.

In Singapore, workplace harassment victims might – in addition to sueing the harasser for compensation – apply for a Protective Order. A Protective Order (PO) or Enhanced Protective Order (EPO) protects victims of harassment from future harassment.

Related: How to spot and deal with workplace bullying

What are some of the common instances of workplace harassment and how can managers identify them?

There are several types of harassment, some of which are easier to identify than others. Key types of harassment to look out for in an office work environment are:

Discriminatory harassment

This refers to harassment against an employee who is marginalised in some way. This includes but is not limited to racism, ageism, pregnancy discrimination, disability-based discrimination, and gender-based discrimination. Depending on the type of discriminatory harassment, you might hear anything from “jokes” to slurs to deliberately excluding the victim of harassment from meetings and activities.

Verbal harassment

Verbal harassment can often be the result of personality clashes in the workplace that have escalated into a serious conflict. Behaviours include yelling, swearing, threatening. If verbal harassment is directed at a marginalised group, it is discriminatory harassment.

Physical harassment

Also called “workplace violence,” physical harassment refers to physical attacks and threats. In extreme scenarios, this might manifest as assault. Keeping an eye out for threatening behaviour or intimidation tactics can help prevent this form of harassment from escalating.

Sexual harassment

This refers to harassment that is sexual in nature, and typically involves unsolicited advances towards the harassment victim. As a manager, you should intervene when you witness inappropriate forms of touching or invasion of personal space, inappropriate gestures and comments and “jokes.”

It’s important to remember that some types of harassment, such as cyber harassment, are impossible to identify without the abuse victim’s consent and confidence in you as a manager. There is no substitute for developing strong relationships with employees, and providing adequate support in the form of complaint and resolution channels.

Related: Are you setting unrealistic and conflicting goals in the workplace?

What are professional resolutions to prevent and address workplace harassment?

Bullying and harassment is often motivated by prejudice. Employees may be targeted because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or the presence of a medical condition or disability amongst other factors. Workplace bullies single out and target people who are somehow different from them.

Instate a strong anti-harassment policy and educate employees as to consequences for harassers

Whatever the motivation behind harassment is, the first and most important step is to establish boundaries and educate employees on what the company’s anti-harassment policy is.

Regularly conduct training and awareness programs

Conduct training sessions that teach employees about what constitutes workplace harassment to eliminate any doubt in employees’ minds, while educating employees of what options exist in the event that they are a victim of harassment.

Establish a channel through which harassment can be reported with ease

Having a clear channel through which employees who are victims of harassment can file complaints is essential to preventing repeat offences or allowing an issue to escalate.

It is especially important that managers identify, address, and resolve workplace harassment as swiftly as possible for the wellbeing of their employees and the company environment on the whole.

Related: 6 ways to prevent a toxic workplace culture

Disclaimer: The advice contained within this blog post does not substitute legal advice from a lawyer. In the event that you or an employee at your company has faced harassment, please seek legal counsel.

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