960 firms adopt standard to address harassment, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

960 firms adopt standard to address harassment

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The voluntary scheme comprises 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.

The scheme - the Tripartite Standard on Grievance Handling - may be voluntary for employers, but the Manpower Ministry (MOM) keeps an eye on whether these employers continue to abide by the standard, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education Low Yen Ling said yesterday.

Ms Low was addressing a question by Nominated MP Walter Theseira in Parliament, 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.

This advisory - the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment - includes a sample copy of a harassment prevention policy for companies to refer to, and it also defines what constitutes workplace and sexual harassment.

The standard adopted by more than 960 companies also covers sexual harassment complaints, but goes further than advisories to help job seekers identify employers who have adopted such progressive practices.

Citing the Peeping Tom case at the National University of Singapore, Dr Theseira said: "If we're not putting in some effort to try to track, for example, the number of employers adhering to these guidelines, we would find it difficult to say anything credibly about how well we are 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 companies to eventually come on board the tripartite standard on grievance handling.

Though 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 also work with the employer to put in place the measures outlined in the advisory, she added.

In egregious cases where companies fail to provide a safe environment for their 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 be invoked only when incidents are reported.

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

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

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