Workplace bullying – what you need to know

by HRD04 Mar 2015
A Singapore employment law expert has said HR teams should look at skilling up on workplace bullying obligations, and the “sooner the better”.

Following the introduction of the Protection from Harassment Act 2014 last year, workplace bullying is increasingly on the radar of forward-looking HR teams.

However, HJM Asia Law & Co managing partner Caroline Berube told HRD Singapore it is taking time for this to filter into practices and documentation.

“We do represent a number of big companies that have factories in Singapore for example, and we haven’t been seeing it in the employee handbooks or contracts.”

“People are still getting educated about it,” she said.

The new Protection from Harassment Bill does not impose specific legal obligations on employers to prevent harassment or bullying from occurring at the workplace, but guidelines do exist which address potential problems.

For example, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices, the Ministry of Manpower, the Workplace Safety and Health Council and National Trades Union Congress have been active in providing guidelines and education.

Berube said it is taking some time for bullying implications to be understood.

“The HR vice presidents of bigger companies, for example, are well aware of it because they have more means, and a team behind them; they have more time to get to know these things,” Berube told HRD Singapore.

“SMEs on the other hand are not as aware of it; they are not doing any coaching or training with executives to make sure they understand it.” 

Berube said that often smaller enterprises had less money available, and did not see the prospect of bullying allegations from an employee as a significant risk given they were unlikely to be targeted for huge damages packages.

Employees themselves are also largely unaware of their rights, meaning there has been a delay in any legal action as the Act becomes more widely understood.

Berube suggests that it usually takes a period of 12 to 24 months for any new Act to gain enough awareness in the public and workplace consciousness.

“I’m not saying it will be like this forever.”

HR teams have been urged to get across their bullying obligations to prepare for any actions by employees under the Protection from Harassment Bill.

“I think they should definitely look at it and the sooner the better,” she said.

“From a HR perspective, that could be educating themselves and the mid-level management, by either getting an expert to give them training or contacting and speaking to other people in HR to discuss the issue themselves,” she said.

Law firm Drew & Napier’s director of dispute resolution Gary Low has previously said in an update to clients that employers should get to grips with the new Act.

“Given the negative reputational repercussions that could potentially result for employers in the event that an employee is found guilty of workplace harassment, it would be prudent for employers to take steps to address it.”

Drew & Napier recommends that organisations seek to delineate the boundaries of behaviour at the outset, and institute policies and procedures to resolve and reduce occurrences of harassment both within and outside the workplace. 

“This could include developing a set of clear guidelines and procedures informing employees on how to deal with such situations, as well as implementing a complaints mechanism and other whistle-blowing and internal disciplinary measures,” Low said.

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