Facing Sexual Harassment Issues At The Workplace

What you should and should not do if faced with sexual misconduct at the office.
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It took one anonymous but explicitly detailed email by a purported former employee to get the ball rolling on investigations into sexual harassment allegations at a prominent business-oriented radio station, quite recently. The alleged misconduct by several senior-level and “influential” staff was stated to have been going on for years and even included alleged raping, yet the claims were not taken seriously by the company. Although the individual accused of rape was sacked, there were still others who continued to hound and intimidate female employees at the station through inappropriate language of a sexual nature sent via text messages, or, in the case of one senior staff, by showing up at the homes of female staff late at night and forcing them to come out.

These allegations detailed in the letter were in no way vague or subjective. If they are true, any thin line separating friendly banter between colleagues and clear-cut harassment has definitely been crossed. Yet, according to the letter, all the station’s management did was to have meetings with the accused men, with no other actions taken. They are said to be protected as they are well-known and popular in their industry.

sexual harassment at workplace

Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between friendly banter and sexual harassment especially in casual work settings, but any colleague should be made to understand that they are making you uncomfortable if you feel so. Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

However, following the anonymous letter going viral on social media and online news sites, the company finally took action and appointed an independent panel to assist in investigating the claims, resulting in the sacking of two employees at the station. Meanwhile, in a press statement, the owner of the station said that the company’s management acknowledged that “more could have been done to proactively gather evidence so that such misconduct could have been addressed in a more timely manner.”

More importantly, the radio station and company as a whole pledged to look into improving the structure for employees to report grievances. Existing internal policies and guidelines were also reviewed, while training and awareness programmes for employees will be carried out to “clearly lay out the parameters of acceptable and unacceptable conduct in the workplace, and the consequences of transgressions”.

Know Your Rights At The Workplace

Most companies would have an anti-harassment – including sexual harassment – policy in place, outlining in detail what behaviours are considered unacceptable for staff, and how to report any incidences. This is crucial for both the employee as well as employer as companies without clear harassment guidelines are liable to be held responsible for failing to provide clear policies.

And if a company does not, for any reason, there is the Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, which was released by the Ministry of Human Resource, Malaysia in August 1999. The code is very comprehensive and outlines subjects related to sexual harassment at the workplace, including the definition and forms of sexual harassment, how to combat such activities, the complaint and grievance procedure to follow, disciplinary rules and penalties for perpetrators, as well as protective and remedial measures for the victim.

“If you encounter sexual harassment at the workplace, the first step to take is to report it to your company’s human resource department,” says Betty Yeoh, former vice president and founder of All Women’s Action Society (AWAM). According to the Employment Act 1955, it is compulsory for an employer to investigate any sexual harassment report made by an employee.

Betty Yeoh, former vice president and founder of All Women’s Action Society (AWAM).

While the Code of Practice is not legally binding, it is referred to by the court in sexual harassment cases. “Not only does it describe the definition of sexual harassment, it even lists down the key elements like ‘did something make you uncomfortable, in what way does it affect you, and your personal perception’,” says Yeoh. “It’s clearly laid out in the code.”

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