Experts welcome anti-workplace harassment guidelines in Singapore

A clear policy on workplace harassment can save companies from low morale and possibly lawsuits. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - 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."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2015, with the headline Experts welcome anti-workplace harassment guidelines. Subscribe