A "Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment" ("Advisory") has been issued on 23 December 2015 by the Singapore Tripartite partners (Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation). The Advisory is aimed at ensuring "a safe, healthy and harmonious workplace". It places the responsibility on employers and all persons in the workplace to prevent harassment at work and to take steps to manage and remedy the situation should harassment occur at the workplace.
The Advisory covers harassment in any work-related places (whether inside or outside the office) & on any work-related occasions, such as at customers' premises & on business trips.
All persons at work are covered, including employees at all levels, contractors, interns, volunteers and customers.
All forms of harassment are covered, including bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, stalking and threatening or abusive language or gestures, as are their different modes of communication including electronically via email, text message and social media. Drawing from the test in the Protection from Harassment Act (2014), harassment occurs when the victim reasonably experiences harassment, alarm or distress.
What's expected of employers & employees
Employers are advised "to foster a conducive & safe organizational culture" that guides employees and others in the workplace in the way they should work with each other, by:
- Establishing core values, including of mutual respect, people-centredness, empathy & support for colleagues, and cultural sensitivity;
- Developing a formal policy against workplace harassment, based on principles including zero tolerance for harassment, leadership commitment, holistic management of the risk of harassment as part of the employer's workplace safety and health risk management system; and early prevention;
- Providing information and training on workplace harassment, to ensure everyone in the organisation is familiar with the issue and plays an active role in preventing and reporting harassment;
- Implementing harassment reporting and response procedures (including whistle-blowing and investigation) based on principles including neutrality, confidentiality and non-retaliation.
Employees are expected to take charge of their personal safety, health and well-being at the workplace, by:
- Taking reasonable steps to protect themselves and keep away from potential harassment situations;
- If harassment occurs, resolving it by themselves if safe and reasonable to do so, or by immediately getting informal or formal help
What the Advisory means for employers
Although the Advisory is not law, the Advisory may well set the standard for employers' legal obligations at common law to provide a safe working environment, as well as under the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA) to take reasonably practicable measures to ensure the safety and health of their employees and other persons at work. For a company which breaches the WSHA, the penalty is a fine of up to S$500,000, while its officers are liable to be prosecuted unless the officer proves that the offence was not attributable to his consent, connivance or negligence. If found guilty, the officer may be fined up to S$200,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 2 years.
Quite apart from legal liability, harassment in the workplace affects productivity, morale and working relationships, and can incur costs and negative publicity
With the spotlight on workplace harassment, employers should now implement formal anti-harassment measures as outlined in the Advisory, or review and refresh their existing anti-harassment protocols and training to ensure they are aligned with the Advisory.