Sexual harassment is an ongoing problem that companies face. Today, more cases have been brought forward under the public spotlight, and I’d like to discuss some of the frequently asked questions about sexual harassment in the workplace.
Q1. What is the definition of sexual harassment?
A: Under S.2 of the Employment Act 1955, sexual harassment is defined as “any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature directed at a person and which is offensive or humiliating and which arises out of and in the course of his employment.”
This definition is affirmed in the Ministry of Human Resource’s Code of Practice for the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace via Article 4;
“Any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature having the effect of verbal, non-verbal, visual, psychological or physical harassment:
(i) That might, on reasonable grounds, be perceived by the recipient as placing a condition of a sexual nature on her/his employment; or
(ii) That might, on reasonable grounds, be perceived by the recipient as an offence or humiliation, or a threat to her/his well-being, but has no direct link to her/his employment.”
Q2. What law governs sexual harassment?
A: There is no law per se that governs sexual harassments. Under S81 EA 1955, it governs sexual harassment as a serious misconduct and puts a mandatory obligation on employers to investigate any complaints of sexual harassment.
Q3. Who can make a complaint of sexual harassment?
A: Under S.81A EA 1955, a complaint of sexual harassment can be made by an employee against another employee, an employee against an employer, or by an employer against an employee.
Q4. Where can situations of sexual harassment take place?
A: It can take place in occasions like at work-related social functions and or in the course of work assignments, at conferences or training sessions, during work related travel, in the office, through the phone or other electronic media.
Q5. What do I do as an employer once I receive a complaint of sexual harassment?
A: Under S.81B EA 1955, the employer has on obligation to inquire into the complaint, and may only refuse to do so if the complaint has been previously inquired into, is frivolous or vexatious in nature.
Q6. What if I have very little evidence?
A: One of the major issues employers have in investigating a complaint of sexual harassment is the lack of evidence. The situations often tend to be a matter of he said/she said and witnesses are scarce or non-existent. Nevertheless, employers must still investigate and compile evidence.
Q7. What do I do with the accused during the investigations being carried out?
A: The employer can suspend the employee under S.14 (2) EA 1955 but it must be on half pay for a period of 14 days for those under the Employment Act unless there is a provision in the Employee Handbook for it. If the investigation continues beyond 2 weeks, the suspension would have to be on full pay.