SEXUAL harassment is no longer as clear-cut as it used to be. Today, especially with easy access to social media, even a simple act of communication between two colleagues on a smartphone can be seen as a form of flirtation bordering on sexual harassment.
Labour law experts in the country are now grappling with these new issues and employers and employees alike should pay heed to the new developments.
We must take heed that a working environment characterised by pervasive sexual harassment can make employees uncomfortable.
An office environment that encourages the free flow of jokes with sexual innuendo and the rampant use of coarse language is sending very dangerous signals that may embolden employees, and even the employers to move from words to action.
As our report, “When playful behaviour turns into harassment” (The Star, June 27) indicate, there is a really fine line between flirting and sexual harassment.
While the Human Resources Ministry has set out clear guidelines in its Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, many employees are sometimes reluctant to lodge reports, even if they are offended.
Although we are supposed to be spending time on work while in the office, the reality is that few workers can honestly say they work every minute of the workday. And this is where the pull of social media is rapidly becoming stronger.
Some workers may think it is totally harmless to share a story, an image, or a video clip, laced with sexuality to colleagues, but this is not the case. The assumption that the receiver will be as excited about such material as the sender is seriously flawed.
Sexual harassment, by today’s standards, can no longer be limited to actual physical acts. Every worker should be aware that every such form of communication and every flirtatious remark with regard to dressing and looks can be deemed as harassment.
And with our new corporate culture where many women hold top positions, we also cannot assume that all forms of sexual harassment are male-initiated. The power of authority, whether held by a male or a female, can put many an employee in a spot.
Companies must do their part to make everyone aware of the Code of Practice.
It was, after all, set up to provide practical guidance to employers, employees, trade unions and others relevant parties on the protection of the dignity of men and women at work.
The aim is to ensure that sexual harassment does not occur and, if it does occur, to ensure that adequate procedures are available to deal with the problem and prevent its recurrence.
Not only should the Code be widely disseminated, but new behavioural patterns that can potentially lead to sexual harassment must also be highlighted.
A workplace free from sexual harassment is a condition of work which employees of either gender are entitled to expect.
Let us never compromise on that. The STAR Home > Opinion > Columnists The Star Says Sunday June 28, 2015 MYT 7:37:53 AM