Workplace And Sexual Harassment In Singapore

by | Oct 26, 2023 | Blog

Sexual harassment is a pressing issue in Singapore that needs comprehensive understanding and robust solutions. Although often associated with the workplace, sexual harassment can occur in many different contexts and forms.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to understanding and addressing workplace sexual harassment in Singapore, focusing on its occurrence and potential remedies.

Legal Framework Of Sexual Harassment in Singapore

Relevant Laws

The primary law that deals with sexual harassment in Singapore is the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA). This Act criminalises behaviour that causes harassment, alarm, or distress to others, and it specifically includes sexual harassment.

Moreover, employment laws also address workplace sexual harassment. Employers should aim to maintain a safe working environment under the Employment Act.

Definition And Scope Of Sexual Harassment Under Singapore Law

Sexual harassment is defined under the POHA as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or acts of a sexual nature. It covers various behaviours, from offensive comments or jokes to unwanted sexual advances. It applies to any context, whether online or offline.

Types Of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can broadly be categorised into ‘quid pro quo’ and ‘hostile environment’.

Quid pro quo harassment involves an individual in a position of power or authority conditioning job benefits or opportunities on sexual favours.

Hostile environment harassment, on the other hand, occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct interferes with a person’s work, affecting performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

Sexual Harassment Can Come In Many Forms

Verbal Abuse And Harassment

This form of harassment includes any unwelcome comments, jokes, or propositions of a sexual nature. Verbal harassment can occur in person or over the phone and can be direct or implied. It could involve explicit language or inappropriate comments about a person’s appearance, gender, or sexual orientation.

Non-Verbal Harassment

Non-verbal harassment involves any unwanted non-verbal sexual behaviours. This can include leering or staring, displaying sexually explicit images or objects, sending suggestive letters, notes or emails, or making sexual gestures. While non-verbal, such actions can still create a hostile environment.

Physical Harassment

Physical harassment entails any unwelcome physical contact. This may include touching, hugging, kissing, or patting. More severe cases can involve sexual assault or rape, both serious criminal offences in Singapore.

Cyber Sexual Harassment

With the rise of digital platforms, sexual harassment has become increasingly prevalent. It includes any unwelcome sexual advances, comments, or threats made online, often through email, social media, or messaging apps. It could also involve the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, often termed ‘revenge porn’.

Sexual Harassment In Different Settings

Sexual harassment can take on many forms. This may be unwelcome sexual comments, requests for sexual favours, or displaying sexually explicit images.

Workplace Sexual Harassment

This is one of the most common contexts where harassment often involves a power dynamic between a supervisor and a subordinate. It could take many forms, from inappropriate comments to unwanted physical contact, and can create a hostile work environment.

Educational Institutions

Schools, colleges, and universities are prohibited from sexual harassment. Students may face harassment from their peers or teachers, which can occur within classrooms, dormitories, or during school-related events.

Public Spaces And Communities

Sexual harassment can occur in any public space or community gathering. This includes public transportation, parks, shopping malls, and neighbourhoods. Harassment in these areas can involve unwanted comments, gestures, or physical contact.

Online Platforms And Social Media

The anonymity of the internet has made online harassment on social media platforms a common ground for sexual harassment. This could occur through direct messages, social media comments, or video game chats. Cyber harassment can involve explicit messages, non-consensual sharing of explicit content, or online stalking.

Addressing Sexual Harassment In Singapore

Reporting And Legal Remedies

Dealing with sexual harassment in Singapore involves various reporting and legal remedies. Here, we explore the most crucial steps victims can take to protect their rights and address the issue.

  1. Reporting: Victims of sexual harassment are encouraged to report the incident to their employer, an authority figure or the police, especially if the harassment is severe or persistent. Reporting is the first step in taking action against the perpetrator.
  2. Protection Order: Victims can apply for a Personal Protection Order (PPO) under the POHA. This legal document issued by the Court restricts or prohibits the harasser from continuing their offensive behaviour. Breaching a PPO is a crime and can result in severe penalties.
  3. Magistrate’s Complaint: In certain cases, victims can file a Magistrate’s Complaint for less severe forms of harassment. This will lead to a mediation process and, possibly, criminal proceedings.
  4. Civil Lawsuit: If the sexual harassment has caused significant distress or loss to the victim, they may also consider filing a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. This could potentially result in compensation for the victim.
  5. Workplace Grievance Procedures: In cases of workplace harassment, victims are advised to follow their company’s grievance procedures. Employers have to investigate and address such complaints.

Employer And Organisational Obligations

Employers in Singapore are legally obligated to provide a safe and healthy working environment. This includes taking proactive steps to prevent sexual harassment, such as developing and enforcing progressive employment practices such as a robust anti-harassment policy, training employees, and promptly addressing any reports of harassment.

Role Of Civil Society And Advocacy

Civil society plays a vital role in addressing sexual harassment. Here, we delve into two key ways civil society contributes to combating this issue.

Importance Of Awareness Campaigns And Community Initiatives

These campaigns and initiatives play a vital role in educating the public about sexual harassment, its signs and impacts, and the steps to be taken against it. They foster a culture of respect and encourage bystander intervention, which is crucial in preventing harassment.

Support Groups And Resources For Survivors

Several NGOs and civil society groups in Singapore provide support to victims of sexual harassment. This can include counselling services, legal advice, and emotional support. They also offer resources to educate victims about their rights and the legal recourse available. These support systems can be invaluable in helping victims recover and navigate the legal process.

Conclusion On Sexual Harassment In Singapore

Sexual harassment is a serious issue that affects many people in Singapore, particularly in the workplace. It is so prevalent that recent surveys indicate victim rates to be as high as two in five workers.

Understanding the legal framework and the available remedies are crucial steps towards addressing this problem. Victims should remember they have rights and protections under Singapore law and should not hesitate to seek help when needed.

Do you feel you’ve been wrongly accused of sexual harassment? Get help from our criminal lawyers in Singapore. Schedule your free consultation today and receive expert legal advice on what you should do next.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sexual Harassment In Singapore

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment Under Singapore Law?

Sexual harassment under Singapore law involves any unwelcome advance, request for sexual favours, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that causes harassment, alarm, or distress to another individual.

How Does The Protection From Harassment Act (POHA) Address Sexual Harassment?

The POHA criminalises behaviours that cause harassment, alarm, or distress, which includes sexual harassment. Under POHA, victims can report incidents and apply for a Protection Order against the harasser for their own safety.

What Are The Different Types Of Sexual Harassment Recognised In Singapore?

Sexual harassment can be verbal, non-verbal, physical, or online (cyber sexual harassment). It can also be classified into quid pro quo harassment (where job benefits are conditioned on sexual favours) and ‘hostile environment’ harassment (unwelcome sexual conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment).

Can Sexual Harassment Occur Outside The Workplace In Singapore?

Yes, sexual harassment can occur in various contexts, including educational institutions, public spaces, communities, and online platforms.

What Steps Can Victims Of Sexual Harassment Take Under Singapore Law?

Victims who have encountered workplace harassment should report the incident to their employer or the police, apply for a Protection Order under the POHA, file a Magistrate’s Complaint, or pursue a civil lawsuit for compensation.

What Are The Responsibilities Of Employers In Preventing Workplace Sexual Harassment In Singapore?

Employers have a legal and moral obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment. This includes preventing sexual harassment. They should have a robust anti-harassment policy, provide training, and promptly address any reports of harassment. In the unfortunate event of an incident, managing workplace harassment should also be a priority.

How Does HR Handle Harassment in the Workplace?

After receiving a complaint, HR typically initiates a thorough investigation, which can involve interviewing the parties involved and any potential witnesses, reviewing relevant documents or emails, and maintaining confidentiality where possible. Once the investigation concludes, HR, in conjunction with management, decides on an appropriate response. This could range from counselling, mediation or reassignment to formal warnings or even termination, depending on the severity of the harassment.

How Do I Report Someone For Harassment in Singapore?

In Singapore, you can report harassment by lodging a police report. This can be done at any police station, via the Singapore Police Force’s e-services portal, or by calling the police hotline. For workplace harassment, you should also report the incident to your Human Resources department. If the harassment is online, you can additionally report it to the platform where it occurred. In serious cases, or if the harassment continues, you may wish to consult a lawyer to explore further legal remedies.

About the author

About the author

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan is the Founder and Managing Director of Tembusu Law. He is also the founder of LawGuide Singapore, a prominent legaltech startup which successfully created and launched Singapore’s first legal chatbot in 2017.