Boss made sexual advances

PHOTO: Boss made sexual advances

The first sign that something was amiss came at lunch-time on the very first day of work for Ms Sarah Tan (not her real name) in an eye-care firm in late July.

The 39-year-old sales representative says her direct boss, a married man in his 40s, joked that married men liked to have girlfriends.

What you did not know about sexual harrassment in Singapore

  • Corrina Lim, executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), says sexual harassment is “offensive, unwanted, and unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature, consisting of repeated or singular acts, from verbal to visual and physical acts. Sexual harassment is not just about deriving sexual pleasure from an act, but is about asserting power over the victim”.
  • 272 had been sexually harassed at work before

    52 of the 272 were men

  • Most of the people surveyed were harassed by colleagues; the rest, by their superiors.

    The offenders tended to be men more than women.

  • 1) Approach your HR department as soon as possible

    “State the facts. Do not tell anyone else in the company, as HR needs to look into the matter and decide what to do next,” says Andrea Ross, managing director of Robert Walters (Singapore, Vietnam & Malaysia), a professional recruitment consultancy.

  • 2) Put everything in writing

    “Include any documents you have as evidence. HR should go through them with you and understand the information clearly. If need be, record the entire conversation. Your identity should not be revealed in the report,” says Erman Tan, vice-president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute.

  • 3) Get psychological help

    “The company should offer to send you for counselling. If you feel emotionally unstable, the company should encourage you to go on leave,” adds Erman.

  • 4) What happens to the accused?

    Andrea says: “The company should give a warning to the person accused. Sexual harassment can mean gross misconduct, and the one committing it can be asked to leave the company immediately. But it’s also important not to damage his reputation if the accusation turns out to be unfounded. If it’s a very serious case, the police should be called in to handle the matter.”

When she disagreed, she says, he said: "Oh you must be a lesbian."

As the weeks rolled by, he would ask her to be his "girlfriend" - albeit in a "laughing, jokey way".

Once when she asked if she could be sponsored for a course, he replied: "Of course, all you have to do is sleep with me."

By last month, he had become more direct, claims Ms Tan.

He was overseas and they were discussing work via WhatsApp messages late one night when she was tired and said: "Let's sleep."

He replied immediately: "Let's sleep together." Two days later, he sent another message: "Give me a kiss." And a crude follow-up, in Chinese.

When she rebuffed his advances repeatedly, she claims, he began finding fault with her looks as well as her work. She worked harder still, including on weekends, hoping for a turnaround.

But when he refused to give her days off in lieu and rejected her ideas for upcoming promotions, she says something snapped, and she decided to complain to her company's human resource department.

It did a quick investigation and she was deemed "overly sensitive".

When she decided to resign, she was told that during her two-week notice period, she would have to continue to report to her boss.

She has since lodged complaints with Aware and even consulted the Ministry of Manpower.

She says she was told that in the United States, where the company is based, there are specific laws to protect victims of workplace harassment.

"I wish we get such laws someday soon."

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