The fall and the fall of Harvey Weinstein has been widely reported in the media, leading to the #MeToo campaign where victims of sexual harassment recall the plights they have faced.
Drawing open the curtains to expose a beast most, if not all, people are afraid or embarrassed to discuss takes courage, and it is only when the perpetrators of such hideous acts are brought to justice that every one will incrementally have the freedom and courage to come forth with their own stories, many of which are still hidden in the insidious darkness of self-doubt and perceived shame.
The Sunday Times published an article today (available here), discussing sexual harassment in the media industry generally.
However, some of the highest counts, incidents or complaints of sexual harassment happen in the workplace. What does one then do, when he or she is the subject of inappropriate behaviour by a colleague – particularly where that colleague is a senior figure?
1) Draw A Line In The Sand
Detail the behaviour you consider inappropriate by listing the facts. Don’t be drawn into engaging in a long-drawn narrative, but a point by point recollection of the inappropriate acts. If these are in the form of emails or other documentary evidence, such as text / Whatsapp messages / photos, have these attached to the list.
Remember, contemporaneous documentary evidence – where available – is key to substantiating allegations.
2) Submit the statement of facts, with supporting documents, to the HR department – or to a higher authority if there is no HR department
Draft a simple email highlighting your plight, and attach the statement of facts and supporting documents and email this to the relevant personnel, most likely the human resource department. If there is no human resource department, go to a superior, supervisor or higher management in the office.
Of course if the senior person is the alleged perpetrator, the email should be sent to an alternative person of appropriate or greater seniority.
Send the email from your private email address, to ensure that you retain a copy.
It is best not to outright confront the alleged perpetrator without having a neutral third party present to record the exchanges. Most employers have – or should have – guidelines on how to investigate employee misconduct.
If the issue is capable of being resolved amicably, or if the issue is one which hasn’t reached the threshold of sexual harassment, you may want to consider letting the matter go. But never do so if this would compromise your integrity or sense of self worth.
3) Further Action
If your employer does not take your allegations seriously, you may have to escalate the issue to the police, which will conduct an independent investigation.
From a civil perspective, you may also consider engaging a lawyer to negotiate your resignation on the basis of constructive dismissal. Legally, this means that you cannot continue to be engaged as an employee by reason of your employer (or its, hers or his employees) causing your continued employment in that company to be untenable.
As a matter of law, your employer owes you a duty an implied duty not to do or omit to do anything which would undermine the relationship of mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee. This includes – amongst other things – ensuring a safe working environment and, accordingly, ensuring that sexual harassment is neither condoned or considered acceptable.
4) Moving On
Seek psychological or psychiatric help if the incident has left you scarred, and in consultation with your lawyer, speak with your employer and request that the employer bear the costs of such medical treatment (where possible).
Remember, standing up for your rights is not a crime nor should it be considered as a social stigma.
I hope the above is a useful guide to the steps one should take when he/she feels that he/she is the victim of sexual harassment. Remember, a single act can constitute sexual harassment, and you don’t need to wait for a series of acts before taking the necessary action.
On the other hand, exercise wisdom in lodging complaints, whether legal or criminal. This takes some common sense as to what is just inappropriate banter versus outright sexual harassment. However, if banter goes unchecked – or “locker room” talk as Trump put it – there’s a chance that it will escalate.
In such a situation express your immediate discomfort with the nature of the conversation or discourse, and state that you find it inappropriate.
22 October 2017
*The contents of this article represent the views and observations of the author alone from a Singapore law perspective and are subject to copyright protection under the laws of the Republic of Singapore (as may from time to time be amended). No part of this article may be reproduced, licensed, sold, published, transmitted, modified, adapted, publicly displayed and/or broadcast (including storage in any medium by electronic means whether or not transiently for any purpose save as permitted herein) without the prior written permission of the author.
Please note that whilst the information in this article is correct to the best of the author’s knowledge and belief at the time of writing, it is for academic reference, does not constitute legal advice and is only intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. It should therefore not be treated as a substitute for specific professional advice for and/or in respect of any particular course of action as such information may not suit your specific business, operational and/or commercial requirements. You are therefore urged to seek legal advice for your specific situation. All the author’s rights are expressly reserved and nothing herein shall be construed as a waiver thereof.