July 4th, 2015

When ‘playful behaviour’ turns into harassment

PETALING JAYA: The fine line between flirting and sexual harassment is becoming thinner, so be careful with what you do, say, text or give.

With flirting defined as “playful behaviour to arouse sexual interest,” labour law experts caution that one can easily get into a fix for actions they may deem to be harmless or innocent.

The Industrial Court will accept it as sexual harassment if the flirting is severe or pervasive, they said.

Lawyer Datuk Thavalingam Thavarajah said it all depended on how someone perceived the other’s conduct towards him or her.

“At the end of the day, it is proof that matters because there are employees who have a personal vendetta or are unhappy as a result of a bad appraisal.

“If there is ulterior motive, they can also make a false claim against a superior,’’ he added.

Another industrial law expert Raymond Low said if the other party made it clear that it was “objectionable and unwanted conduct”, then it would be a clear-cut case of sexual harassment.

Thavalingam said bosses should include flirting as a prohibited act in line with the Human Resource Ministry’s Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.

Sexual harassment can be done through a text message, Facebook and other social media, or giving pornographic material, says Thavalingam.

“It must be directed at someone and the person must feel offended. It cannot be a general statement without a specific addressee,” he said.

He added that there was a manager who was sacked for sending an inappropriate SMS to a married female worker and lending her a book with sexual connotations.

“The High Court ruled this as inappropriate and upheld his dismissal,” he added.

Thavalingam said if there was evidence of unwarranted communication or advances, employers need not wait for a formal complaint to be lodged.

“If it comes to the employer’s attention, they can begin disciplinary action,” he said.

Lawyer Janice Leo said sexual comments passed off as flirting should be taken seriously.

“Some people may take it as a joke or compliment but another can be quite offended particularly when the feelings are not reciprocated,’’ she said, adding that flirting can also be seen as a cheeky way of expressing one’s feelings to another.

Women’s Aid Organisation executive director Sumitra Visvanathan said everyone, whatever their gender, should respect each other and not make others uncomfortable by their conduct.

She said staff disturbed by a colleague’s flirting should “communicate this clearly to them”.

Sales executive Amanda Lit said the interpretation by each person on flirting would be subjective.

“Some people are not open-minded. They will have misconceptions on the conduct of another person,” said Lit.

However, she said that if someone had used abusive words or profanity then it could be considered sexual harassment.

“If a man just asks me for a cup of coffee it is fine. If he goes overboard and starts to make sexual comments and his body language shows it, it is no more flirting and it could be sexual harassment,” said Lit.

Former Industrial court chairman Roslan Abu Bakar said the court would consider the perceptions of the accuser and alleged harasser in deciding a sexual harassment claim.

“Normally, the alleged male harasser will claim that it is normal in his culture with regards to certain acts but it will be viewed differently by the victims,” said Roslan, who is currently the Federal Court’s chief registrar.

If it had happened in Malaysia

It looks like unfavourable episodes over dress codes are not unique to our country

LOOKS like we are not alone,” Ellen Chong, my Twitter friend, tweeted to me. She linked a Daily Mail Online report with the headline, “Netball star refused entry into Qantas Club for wearing leggings and joggers.”

“Just got denied from Qantas Club for wearing leggings & joggers ... What do they expect me to wear on a four hr flight to Perth? A ball gown?” tweeted Australian netball star Caitlin Bassett on Tuesday.

Melbourne’s Qantas Club, an exclusive airport lounge, denied the 27-year-old sportswoman entry because her attire was deemed to be gym clothes.

A Qantas spokesman replied that since April this year, customers entering domestic Qantas Clubs and Business Lounges had been reminded of the smart casual dress guidelines. Singlets, bare feet, rubber thongs and gym wear are deemed inappropriate.

If it had happened in Malaysia, a security guard would have given Bassett a sarong to wear so that she would be allowed entry.

If it had happened in Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad would have said that dress codes were an office matter, that it was the right of individuals to wear shorts in public, and they should be allowed to enter government facilities like a hospital as long as they weren’t naked.

If it had happened in Malaysia, Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria would have said that non-Muslims should dress more “appropriately” in public places out of “respect” for Muslims, who will sin upon seeing people’s aurat.

If it had happened in Malaysia, some would have said it was another proof that the country was going to be the next Taliban state.

If it had happened in Malaysia, some narrow-minded people would have made a sweeping statement saying that the incident only happened in Malaysia because it involved a certain religion.

Lately, just like the almost daily dead dugong sightings in 1999, there have been reports of Malaysians who were forced to wear sarong or towel to enter government building.

The first reported case was that of Suzanna G.L. Tan who was made to wear a sarong otherwise she would not be able to get into the Road Transport Department (JPJ) office to transfer ownership of her car.

Her case was highlighted by the media after she posted on Facebook a photograph of herself outside the office.

She was wearing a blouse with a skirt that ended just above the knee.

Another photograph showed her wearing a sarong and sitting at the JPJ counter.

“I had to go to JPJ personally to sign the transfer form for the car I sold. That in itself is already a pain,” Tan wrote. “I go dressed like this. Indecent meh?”

Then reports of more sarong and towel cases began to appear in the media.

Yesterday, my colleague Rashvin­jeet S. Bedi shared on WhatsApp a Daily Mail Online report with the headline, “School bans girls from wearing skirts because it’s ‘distracting for male teachers when they walk up stairs or sit down’.”

Trentham High School in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, ordered its students to wear “business-like” trousers to stop them from coming to school in clothing that “barely covers their bottoms”.

MailOnline reported that headmistress Dr Rowena Blencowe was forced to introduce the new dress code because staff spent more time telling pupils to roll down their skirts than teaching.

“Now, it’s just a constant nag,” Blencowe said.

“Girls are coming in with skirts that just cover their bottoms – it’s totally inappropriate.”

“Girls with the right length skirts are just rolling them up. We tell them in form period to roll them down, but by first break they’re back up again,” she said.

“It’s not pleasant for male members of staff and students either, the girls have to walk up stairs and sit down and it’s a complete distraction.”

If it had happened in Malaysia, a security guard would have given Trentham High School students a sarong to wear.

If it had happened in Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad would have said that dress codes were an office matter, that it was the right of individuals to wear shorts in public and should be allowed to enter government facilities like a hospital as long as they weren’t naked.

If it had happened in Malaysia, Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria would have said that non-Muslims should dress more “appropriately” in public places out of “respect” for Muslims who will sin upon seeing people’s aurat.

If it had happened in Malaysia, some would have said it was another proof that the country was going to be the next Taliban state.

If it had happened in Malaysia, some narrow-minded people would have made a sweeping statement saying that the incident only happened in Malaysia because it involved a certain religion.

On Tuesday, Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard almost fell foul of Wimbledon’s strict dress code. She was wearing a black bra.

Her “crime” was discovered when a sliver of the black-coloured strap peeked out from her all-white attire when she moved.

If it had happened in Malaysia, a security guard would have given Bouchard a sarong to wear.

If it had happened in Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad would have said that dress codes were an office matter, that it was the right of individuals to wear shorts in public and should be allowed to enter government facilities like a hospital as long as they weren’t naked.

If it had happened in Malaysia, Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria would have said that non-Muslims should dress more “appropriately” in public places out of “respect” for Muslims who will sin upon seeing people’s aurat.

If it had happened in Malaysia, some would have said it was another proof that the country was going to be the next Taliban state.

If it had happened in Malaysia, some narrow-minded people would have made a sweeping statement saying that the incident only ­happened in Malaysia because it involved a certain religion.

Not the job for the heartless

IT is very sad indeed to read in the morning paper that an Orang Asli schoolgirl from the Temiar community “... was allegedly tied, beaten and kicked by her teachers... allegedly for stealing money from one of the teachers...”

Imagine the trauma and pain the Year Four pupil had to undergo. Even if she stole the money, the teachers should not have resorted to such gangster-like means.

As teachers, their role is to nurture and develop students, especially primary school pupils who are beginning to learn about life. It is such heartless teachers who spoil the good name of the teaching profession.

They are not fit to be teachers. They do not understand the profession. They are probably the kind who see teaching as a last-resort job as they are unable to get other work.

A teacher does not only teach. A teacher must like children, love children and enjoy playing with children.

He/she must have the fatherly and motherly touch in order to be a good teacher. He/she must be able to handle children, and instil in them good values and respect for others.

When a teacher resorts to physical means like kicking and beating a child, then the teacher is not fit to become one. He/she has lost the respect of students.

There are other ways to reprimand a primary school pupil. If indeed she was the suspect, the teacher should have won her confidence, first by befriending her.

Then, slowly take her to the canteen and, over a cup of air sirap and a plate of mee, very gently ask her whether she has anything to do with the stolen money.

Find out her family background, and how much pocket money she was given to spend in school. With this caring approach, the young girl may open up and tell the truth. It was only right that her grandmother lodged a report with the Gua Musang district police station.

The three teachers must not be let off lightly if the police have a case against them. The teachers should be sacked. I don’t think Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was amused to read the morning paper.

He must be wondering what devil has got into their veins to turn them into demons. Hassan Talib, Gombak, Selangor The NST Letters 3 July 2015

Bilingual education the way to go

I REFER to Hassan Talib’s “School system neither here nor there” (NST, June 30). No one will dispute the fact that the country’s standard of written and spoken English has declined considerably in the last few decades.

Many will also agree that there is an urgent need to improve our collective competence in the language. It is on the question of what we should do to rectify the situation that Hassan and I differ.

For Hassan and many others, the solution lies in restoring English-medium schools.

They are of the view that the English-medium school — like the Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil-media schools — should become one of the options available to parents.

Such a school, it is true, will attract a segment of the various communities. Depending on where these schools are located, the student populace may well be less mono-ethnic than in some of our national schools today.

This should facilitate a degree of inter-ethnic interaction. But English-medium schools are not going to change the education landscape. National, Chinese and Tamil schools will remain the major players.

Malay parents will continue to send their children to national and Islamic schools. With increasing religious identity consciousness, the latter, in particular, have become more popular among Muslim urbanities in recent years.

For the Chinese, the determination to perpetuate and elevate Chinese schools is greater than before, fuelled, no doubt, by China’s emergence as a global power.

Tamil families will not cease their support for Tamil schools simply because English-medium schools are around. What this means is that separate language and religious streams within the school system, which in some ways, are a bane of our society, will persist.

What is the alternative? We should persevere in developing a truly bilingual education system where Bahasa is the main medium of instruction and English is an effective subsidiary medium of instruction.

This would require teaching some subjects in Bahasa, others in English, and yet others in both languages. Yayasan 1Malaysia had alluded to such an approach in its memorandum on education and unity to the government five years ago.

It is an approach that would be in harmony with the spirit of the Razak Report, the foundation of our education system.

For the Razak Report envisages both Bahasa and English as media of instruction in secondary school and beyond.

It is in line with the current perspective on the two languages encapsulated in the slogan, “To honour the Malay language; to empower the English language.”

This slogan should be translated into concrete measures. Apart from using both languages as the media of instruction in the education system from primary to university level, the government should accelerate and expand its retraining programme for teachers, aimed at making them competent in Bahasa and English.

Only students with a genuine commitment to both languages should be recruited as trainee teachers. To build a bilingual education system, the mindset of everyone involved in this monumental task should undergo a massive transformation. That is the real challenge before us. Dr Chandra Muzaffar, Chairman, Board of Trustees, Yayasan 1Malaysia NST Letters 3 July 2015