Over 960 firms adopt standard that covers harassment at work

Students queuing to attend a townhall meeting on sexual misconduct at NUS University Town recently. The standard adopted by more than 960 companies covers sexual harassment complaints and goes one step further to help job seekers identify employers w
Students queuing to attend a townhall meeting on sexual misconduct at NUS University Town recently. The standard adopted by more than 960 companies covers sexual harassment complaints and goes one step further to help job seekers identify employers who have adopted such progressive practices.ST FILE PHOTO

The voluntary scheme sets out good practices to address workplace unhappiness, including sexual harassment complaints

More than 960 companies, which employ nearly half a million workers here between them, have adopted a set of good practices to address workplace unhappiness, including sexual harassment complaints, as of January this year.

As the scheme – the Tripartite Standard on Grievance Handling – is voluntary for employers, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) does not track if these employers abide by the standard.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education Low Yen Ling was addressing a question in Parliament yesterday by Nominated MP Walter Theseira, who was concerned that the ministry does not monitor how many employers have adopted measures to manage sexual harassment at the workplace, flagged under a separate advisory.

The Tripartite Advisory for Managing Workplace Harassment includes a sample copy of a harassment prevention policy for companies to refer to, and also defines what constitutes workplace and sexual harassment.

The standard adopted by more than 960 companies covers sexual harassment complaints. It goes one step further to help job seekers identify employers who have adopted such progressive practices.

Citing the Peeping Tom case at the National University of Singapore, Prof Theseira said: "If we're not putting in some effort to try to track, for example, the number of employers who are adhering to these guidelines, we would find it difficult to say anything credibly about how well we're addressing these concerns."

But Ms Low said the advisory was not tracked as it is meant to provide guidance for employers and employees, and was a way for MOM to "develop a pipeline" for firms to come on board the tripartite standard on grievance handling.

Although the advisory is optional, Ms Low said the authorities will still assess whether the employer has taken adequate measures in response to a harassment complaint.

"If the employer failed to address a workplace harassment case fairly, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) would advise the employer to review the case again," she said.

Tafep will work with the employer to put in place the measures outlined in the advisory, she added.

In egregious cases where firms fail to provide a safe environment for workers, MOM can take action against the company, such as by curtailing work passes, said Ms Low.

But human resources professionals told The Straits Times that while the law can deter would-be harassers, penalties can only be invoked when incidents are reported.

This is often not the case with sexual harassment, which is still considered taboo by many firms, said Mr Erman Tan, a HR expert and former president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute.

"In many cases, the affected employee is a young woman who has just joined the company and the accused is someone from management, and companies end up siding with the accused as he is viewed as a more valuable asset," he said, adding that having a robust harassment prevention policy will prevent such incidents from the onset.

Although not ideal, the 960 companies that have signed up with the tripartite standard is a good start, said Mr Tan.


Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2019, with the headline 'Over 960 firms adopt standard that covers harassment at work'. Print Edition | Subscribe