While Singapore has made significant strides in tackling the issue of workplace harassment in recent years, it is still more common than we think, occurring in various forms and to different extents.Take an active stand against workplace harassment. Equip yourself with these resources to report a case when you witness one or to seek help in the event you find yourself a victim of workplace harassment.
In this compilation of resources, you will find relevant information on:
- What constitutes workplace harassment?
- Guides on how you can take an active stand against workplace harassment (as an individual or as an organisation) in the accountancy sector.
- Helplines which you can seek help from and avenues which you can report a case in the event you find yourself a victim of workplace harassment.
By working together, we can foster a healthy and supportive working environment, where employees are empowered to perform to their fullest potential for the advancement of the accountancy profession.
What is workplace harassment?
Workplace harassment can occur when one party at the workplace demonstrates behaviour that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to another party. Such behaviour can violate a person's dignity and create an unfavourable work environment.
Who can be involved?
Workplace harassment can be directed at or carried out by co-workers, managers, or even other people at the workplace, such as customers, contractors and volunteers.
When and where can it occur?
Workplace harassment does not take place only within the confines of the workplace - it can also occur outside of the office space, such as on business trips or at clients' premises. Neither does workplace harassment only take place in person - with the advancement of technology, it can also take place on the Internet, facilitated by communication tools such as email, text messaging and social media.
How it can happen?
Workplace harassment can take the form of verbal/written, physical and visual, such as:
a) Threatening, abusive or insulting language, comments or non-verbal gestures
b) Cyber bullying
c) Sexual harassment
- Develop a policy on prevention of workplace harassment
- Provide information and training on workplace harassment
- Implement reporting and response procedures
- Inculcate a safe and respectful environment at your workplace
- Show respect to all your co-workers
- Behave in an ethical manner
- Abide to the ISCA Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics
- Report cases of workplace harassment immediately to appropriate authorities
Accounting firms should develop a formal policy which prohibits harassment and also ensures recourse in the case of harassment at the workplace. The policy should be developed in consultation with workers in the organisation and professional bodies. It can be standalone or incorporated into a broader company safety and health policy.
An effective policy could include the following:
- A clear position statement on zero tolerance for harassment
- Management commitment to prevent and respond to harassment
- Illustrations and examples of workplace harassment
- Avenues for recourse and assistance
- Information on investigation and grievance handling processes
- Actions to be taken against harasser
Please refer to the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment for a sample of a harassment prevention policy.
- The policy should be communicated clearly to all levels of the organisation.
- Accounting firms can consider raising awareness of the policy through the corporate website or common work areas to ensure that all internal and external stakeholders are well informed of such a policy.
- The policy should also be communicated through multiple platforms, such as staff induction programmes, company intranet, HR handbooks, notices or posters, and employee briefings.
- It is also important for the management to discuss and reinforce the messages regularly at staff meetings to demonstrate their commitment to it.
- The policy should be reviewed regularly and when an incident happens to ensure its relevance to the workplace.
Accounting firms should develop the following procedures, where practicable, to handle any potential workplace harassment issues:
Harassment reporting hotline to ensure timely reporting
A harassment reporting hotline could be established to allow reporting of harassment cases. Accounting firms should create a safe environment for reporting and ensure that whistle-blowers will not be penalised. Accounting firms should follow up on all harassment complaints promptly, and if necessary, assist the employee to file a police report and/or magistrate’s report.
Investigation procedures to ensure fair treatment of workplace harassment issues
Employers could put in place investigation procedures to handle and investigate workplace harassment complaints. It can include the following features:
- Appoint trained neutral parties to inquire into the case
- Establish a timeline for investigation and communicate this to all parties involved
- Carry out investigation (interviews with affected parties and witnesses, review of documented evidence) in a sensitive way with due regard to the confidentiality of the matter for the complainant and alleged person
- Evaluate the case based on available evidence and determine whether alleged behaviour constitutes workplace harassment
- Update progress and discuss findings/outcome of the investigation to the complainant and alleged person
- Take corrective actions e.g. update harassment prevention policy, remind supervisors and staff on their duties regarding workplace harassment
- Provide avenue for appeals
- Document the investigation process and keep a record of findings e.g. complaint details, details of specific harassing behaviours, summary of interviews with affected parties
Closure to prevent recurrence of incident
Proper closure of the harassment incident can help to prevent recurrence. It is especially important to ensure that the harasser will not repeat his/her misconduct if he/she continues to work in the organisation. Employers can:
- Educate the harasser that his/her behaviour or conduct is unacceptable and has detrimental effects on others and may be an offence under the law
- Monitor the harasser after the incident to ensure that he/she does not repeat the act
- Re-deploy or relocate the harasser to avoid future conflicts
- Inform the harasser of the consequences for repeated conduct
- Assist the victims in filing a report to the authorities, if necessary
- Provide support for affected persons e.g. counselling and interim options such as additional leave or flexibility to work from home during the investigation and/or recovery period
If you are affected by workplace harassment, you can consider either one or more of the following options:
- Keep a distance from people who exhibit unacceptable social behaviour, where reasonably possible.
- Adopt a buddy system in situations where personal safety may be compromised.
- Get help using pre-arranged distress signal or other appropriate means such as the personal duress system, in situations where personal safety may be compromised.
- Be familiar with workplace harassment-related procedures in the organisation. Report the harassment encounter to your supervisor, manager, HR or delegated neutral party for the organisation to intervene and take appropriate action.
- Contact the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) to get help and advice on the appropriate actions that you can take:
- Report discrimination or workplace harassment online.
- Call TAFEP for advice.
- Make a police report or seek civil remedies from the State Courts against the harasser if the contravention of a Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) provision is believed to have been committed. Victims of harassment can apply for a Protection Order (PO) and an Expedited Protection Order (EPO). The victim of harassment can also commence a civil suit against the harasser for monetary damages. It is possible to initiate both criminal and civil actions at the same time.
- More information on the civil and criminal remedies can be found on the State Courts website.
AWARE provides resources and corporate training programmes on workplace sexual harassment, diversity and discrimination, in conjunction with confidential and private consultation and counselling services for women. AWARE’s Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory (WHDA) is a free service providing advice and support (both practical and emotional) to individuals facing discrimination or harassment at the workplace. WHDA will guide you through all your various options, internal or external—including approaching
your company’s HR or the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), or filing a mediation request with the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM).
SNEF offers employers and HR departments advisory services and corporate training programmes on workplace harassment.
SCC offers counselling services for individuals looking for ways to resolve their workplace issues.
If you are an affected employee, you may also refer to the Workplace Harassment Infographic for guidance on how
to report workplace harassment and seek assistance and advice.
Accounting firms are legally obligated to keep their workplaces safe for employees by preventing and managing workplace harassment. They can also be held responsible for acts of harassment committed by their employees, as long as they occur in their workplace. Harassment within or outside the workplace may be an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).
Accounting firms should strive to provide a safe working environment that allows employees to contribute to business results, as workplace harassment can affect morale and productivity. Refer to the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment for guidance on preventive measures to ensure a safe and conducive workplace. The advisory also recommends proactive management and remedial actions that accounting firms and affected persons can take if harassment occurs at the workplace.
As a responsible employer, you should proactively:
- Prevent harassment at the workplace
- Protect your employees
- Manage the incident properly if it happens