Saturday 26 December 2015

Managing Workplace Harassment: MOM, NTUC and SNEF issue Tripartite Advisory

'Onus on employers' to fight harassment
MOM, NTUC and SNEF issue advisory on preventing and managing such situations
By Olivia Ho and Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2015

Employers were yesterday urged to take the lead in fighting workplace harassment and advocate zero tolerance towards such behaviour among their staff.

The Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) are banding together to encourage bosses to take harassment seriously.

They posted a document advising bosses to implement procedures such as a hotline for victims to report harassment safely and better training for human resource personnel to deal with such cases.

They also suggested preventive measures such as better lighting and more closed-circuit television coverage in the workplace, as well as encouraging employees to get a colleague to accompany them to places where they feel unsafe.

The advice was developed by the three partners in the wake of the Protection from Harassment Act, which was passed in Parliament in March last year.

It illustrated how harassment at the workplace can take different forms, such as bullying, sexual harassment or even stalking. It said harassment has economic as well as emotional costs, as it causes anxiety to the affected staff, which could affect their morale and productivity. The company's reputation could also be at stake.

It also gave advice on how companies can investigate harassment complaints and, if necessary, help employees make reports to the police or State Courts.

The three partners will promote the advice through their various channels. An SNEF spokesman said: "We have sent the advisory to all our members, comprising more than 3,000 organisations with a combined workforce of 750,000."

He added that SNEF has also developed a course for employers on "Prevention and Addressing Workplace Bullying and Harassment", and will work with other chambers and associations to promote it.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) welcomed the move. Its executive director Corinna Lim said: "We expect it to greatly improve awareness of the need for anti-harassment measures among employers and employees.

"All companies have a legal duty to provide a safe place of work for their employees. Companies that know that harassment is happening and turn a blind eye to it may now arguably have failed to fulfil their duty of care."

In the past two years, Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre has received more than 60 complaints a year about workplace sexual harassment. Ms Lim said, however, that this is "the tip of the iceberg" as many cases go unreported. 

Experts welcome anti-workplace harassment guidelines in Singapore
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2015

A clear policy on workplace harassment can save companies from low morale and possibly lawsuits, said industry experts.

They were responding to the release of guidelines yesterday (Dec 23) by the Manpower Ministry, the Singapore National Employers Federation and the National Trades Union Congress to help companies deal with harassment at the workplace.

Welcoming the advisory, Singapore Human Resources Institute president Erman Tan said that "it is timely to talk about the issue" as the current trend is for less hierarchy and a more relaxed culture at work.

"Teams are getting smaller and people may get 'overly friendly' and cross boundaries."

He described the advisory as a good platform for companies to talk about a sensitive topic typically seen as taboo since many prefer not to wash dirty linen in front of their other employees. But employees will be left demoralised if they do not get help, he said.

A group - comprising the Government, unions, human resource professionals and employers - aimed at preventing workplace harassment was set up after Parliament passed the Protection from Harassment Act in March last year.

In the 17-page advisory released yesterday, the group urged companies to adopt a zero-tolerance stance towards harassment and to put in place a prevention policy, which includes reporting and response procedures.

The experts whom The Straits Times spoke to all said that companies which do not have a detailed anti-harassment policy should take their cue from the guidelines.

Executive director of Aware Corinna Lim said companies often do not understand the need for an anti-harassment policy until a case rears its head. And even then "it is not easy for managers to handle complaints of sexual harassment", she said. Sensitivity and empathy are required, and "that is where external trainers will come in useful".

The advisory gives a list of organisations where employers and employees can turn to if they want help or need more information.

Mr Tan said that the guidelines are generic so companies can tailor them to fit job descriptions.

For instance, employees who need to travel often in groups for work should have guidelines spelling out what is considered non-acceptable behaviour. He advised human resource practitioners to "identify grey areas in current policies to clarify the procedures when an employee gets harassed".

Mr Ian Lim, a director at TSMP Law Corporation, said that "ultimately it is just an advisory though, so it will have limited effect if employers and employees only pay lip service" to harassment policies.

The managing director of consulting firm Great Place To Work, Ms Evelyn Kwek, said that it would be "more effective for organisations to create a culture where... the physical and psychological well-being of the employees are a priority".

"A safe and positive workplace culture does not happen by chance," she added. "It takes intentional effort on the part of the leaders and employees to make it a reality."

How to keep yourself safe in the workplace
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2015

Avoid going alone to places where you feel unsafe, keep away from colleagues who harass you and be familiar with your company's reporting procedures.

These are some steps employees can take to help tackle workplace harassment, according to an advisory released by the Manpower Ministry, the Singapore National Employers Federation and the National Trades Union Congress yesterday.

Victims can also seek legal redress under the Protection from Harassment Act, which came into force in November last year, if they are being stalked or threatened with violence, for instance. Remedies under the Act include protection orders.

For a start, employers can make clear to employees their stand against such harassment. It is also important that employees know whom they can approach to discuss and address the issue, said a spokesman for the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices.

Still, everyone should take charge of his personal safety, health and well-being at the workplace, reminded the tripartite advisory.

"You should take all reasonable steps to protect yourself and keep away from potential harassment situations," it said.

Victims can choose to deal with the harassment on their own or seek the help of a trusted colleague or friend.

For instance, they can firmly tell the perpetrator to stop or keep a record of evidence such as photographs, screenshots and audio recordings.

They can also report the case to their company or approach organisations such as Aware, the Community Justice Centre or the Trauma Recovery and Corporate Solutions department at Changi General Hospital.

Women's group Aware urged victims to come forward, noting that the "majority of cases go unreported".

"Most will not want to report because they are afraid of reprisals, negative publicity, are not aware of their rights nor the proper channels for reporting, or do not think that reporting will solve the problem," said its executive director Corinna Lim.

For more information, log on to the ministry's website to get a copy of the new guidelines.

'He denied everything... No one stood up for me'
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2015

She was glad to have landed a job right out of university three years ago but it soon turned into a nightmare.

"I was looking forward to my first day at work," said the 26-year-old marketing executive who wanted to be known only as Ms Ng.

All went well for a week as she settled into work. Then a colleague started "behaving strangely".

"He would stand really close behind me when I was at the photocopier," she said. "When I bent over to take my printouts, my back would inevitably bump into him."

The male colleague would then walk away abruptly afterwards, she added. "I didn't know how to respond to him. I felt really uncomfortable."

Things worsened when she asked her colleagues for help on how to deal with the man, who was in his late 40s.

She said: "They told me to just ignore it and it would stop after a while. They said that's just the way he is."

Another colleague told her that she was "imagining things" and "not to flatter herself". So she kept quiet but things did not get better.

He began to breathe loudly and close to her neck when he stood behind her. "It was getting creepy," she said.

"I had enough but I didn't know who to turn to," said Ms Ng. Finally, she told her boss, who confronted the man.

"He denied everything though everyone saw what he did to me. No one stood up for me."

Her colleagues began to avoid her as well. Ms Ng was labelled a troublemaker "who didn't know how to keep her mouth shut".

"We were short-handed, so everyone was really upset with me when the guy got suspended," she said. "There were not enough people to do the work."

She quit in frustration. "I didn't want to work in a culture that was so toxic," she said.

And what became of the man? "He continues to work there," she said.

While she wonders about the effectiveness of the new guidelines released yesterday, she did welcome them.

She added: "I was most disappointed by the lack of support that my colleagues showed. I don't think I have ever felt so lonely and scared before. I hope the guidelines will also address the 'blaming-the-victim' culture."

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