Victim of Workplace Abuse in Singapore: What to Do

Last updated on February 14, 2022

employee stressed by his employer

For most of us, work forms a big part of our lives. Many of us might have offered a listening ear to family members and friends for their workplace woes. You might even be the one feeling helpless and exhausted from an abusive workplace situation.

The big question remains – what should you do when you are experiencing abuse at your workplace, either from your colleagues of the same rank, or your supervisors and bosses?

If you are a victim of workplace abuse in Singapore, removing yourself from a toxic or abusive workplace situation is certainly not as easy and straightforward. However, there are certain steps you may be able to take. In this article, we will cover:

Types of Workplace Abuse in Singapore

Workplace abuse may occur in different forms, and what would amount to abuse might not be as straightforward. Possible types of workplace abuse in Singapore may include:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Harassment in general or sexual harassment
  • Forced to work unreasonably long hours

There is no quick fix or one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to responding to workplace abuse. Nonetheless, if you are a victim of workplace abuse, bear in mind that there are several avenues of criminal and/or civil recourse available for you to rely on.

Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse may occur either in person (face to face) or via text. Such abuse may constitute a harassment offence under the Protection from Harassment Act (more on harassment below) or may also amount to the offence of criminal intimidation.

Criminal intimidation

Criminal intimidation is committed when someone threatens to cause injury to either your body, reputation or property, or the body or reputation of anyone that you know, while intending to:

  • Cause alarm;
  • Cause you to do an act that you are not legally required to do; or
  • Stop you from doing an act that you are legally entitled to do.

If the person who made abusive comments and/or statements to you is found guilty of committing criminal intimidation, he/she may face a punishment of up to 2 years’ jail and/or a fine.

Further, aggravated threats of criminal intimidation, such as threatening to cause death or grievous hurt, would attract a jail term of up to 10 years and/or a fine.

Physical abuse

You could also be a victim of physical abuse, which could refer to any form of deliberate body harm and/or contact, including:

  • Forceful poking
  • Slapping
  • Hitting
  • Punching

Under Singapore law, an individual may be charged with voluntarily causing hurt and using criminal force for physical assault. An offender may be jailed for up to 3 years and/or fined up to $5,000 for voluntarily causing hurt, and be jailed for up to 3 months and/or fined up to $1,500 for using criminal force.

In 2019 for example, entertainment lawyer Samuel Seow was charged in court for his physically abusive behaviour towards two of his employees, including:

  • Forcefully poking an employee with his finger and pushing; and
  • Hitting his employees, resulting in tenderness and bruises over their body parts, such as their arm and thigh.

He eventually pleaded guilty to using criminal force and voluntarily causing hurt to his employees.

Harassment

If you have been subject to threatening, insulting, demeaning and abusive comments, you are likely a victim of workplace harassment. Such comments could have been directed at you either at your workplace, or even during other work-related occasions.

Workplace harassment is a criminal offence under the Protection from Harassment Act. An offender can expect to be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to 6 months.

Further, a victim of verbal abuse may sue the harasser for compensation, and on top of that, apply for a Protection Order (PO) or Enhanced Protection Order (EPO) to stop the unwanted behaviour and/or communication of the harasser.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment, which refers to the making of unwelcome sexual advancements, is another possible form of workplace abuse. Such harassment may come in various forms, including:

  • Being on the receiving end of sexual remarks
  • Receiving pictures and/or texts of a sexual nature, or even being “flashed” at (i.e. if a person exposes their genitals to you)
  • Being asked questions about your appearance, body or sexual activities
  • Being physically touched against your will, such as when a person places a hand on your thigh, or if a man uses his penis to penetrate your vagina, anus or mouth without your consent
  • Being secretly filmed while doing a private act, such as changing clothes or using the urinal

Depending on the exact incident(s), some of these conducts would be caught as criminal offences under the Penal Code, including voyeurism, outrage of modesty, rape and sexual assault. Victims may also seek civil and criminal remedies under the Protection from Harassment Act.

You can find out more from our articles on what can victims of sexual harassment in Singapore do, and sexual misconduct in Singapore in general.

Being made to work very long hours

If you are:

  • A workman doing manual labour and earning less than $4,500 a month; or
  • An employee earning less than $2,600,

you should be aware that it is illegal for your employer to make you work more than 12 hours a day unless your employer has applied for an overtime exemption for you to work up to 14 hours a day. You should also not be made to work more than 72 overtime hours in a month, unless your employer had similarly applied for an overtime exemption.

If you have been forced to work extremely long hours that exceed the abovementioned limits, your employer may be charged under the Employment Act for breaches in working hours and overtime limits. An employer could be fined up to $5,000 for a first offence. Heavier penalties of a jail term of up to a year and/or a fine of up to $10,000 would apply for repeat offenders.

For example, in 2021, private security agencies Erawan Security Services and Volantra Security were discovered to have made their security officers work back-to-back shifts, causing them to work more than 12 hours a day on multiple days over a span of 2 months. They were consequently charged for breaching the limits on working hours.

What Can I Do If I am a Victim of Workplace Abuse?

If you believe you have been or are a victim of workplace abuse, there are options available to you. You can:

  • Approach a close and trusted friend or family member for support. This can be a good first step to work through your emotions before deciding on any further course of action.
  • Document and keep records of incidents. If you experience instances of abuse at work, you should document the facts and specific behaviour of the abuse and keep a record of who your witnesses are. This way, you would help yourself to build a credible testimony of your experiences if you eventually make a report to seek help.
  • Inform your supervisor, human resource (HR) officer, or management. Escalating the workplace abuse to your supervisor, HR officer or management is an important step to take, as they would have the authority to intervene quickly to ensure your safety and well-being. If your company has a buddy or other peer support programmes, you can also inform your buddy for support. As every organisation will have different procedures to handle complaints, such as for sexual misconduct, you should follow the protocols provided to employees to bring the matter to light. Once the matter has been resolved, you may be informed of the measures that were taken against the party who committed the sexual misconduct. These measures can range from counselling to dismissal.
  • File a report with the Ministry of Manpower via its website, and/or the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP). You may want to submit a report to MOM to inform them about any possible breaches of employment law so they can investigate and follow up on the matter. Rest assured that your identity and information provided can be kept strictly confidential. Alternatively, you may also reach out toTAFEP, an agency dedicated to the promotion of fair, responsible and progressive employment practices. They can help employees facing workplace harassment by advising on what steps to take (e.g. filing a police report or seeking protection orders) and intervene if your company adopts unacceptable employment practices, such as not handling the employees’ complaints properly or fairly. 
  • Report the incident(s) to the police. You can also report the matter to the police if you are physically harmed or are facing threat of harm. The police will investigate possible criminal offences and pursue criminal charges if there are any.

Workplace abuse should never be tolerated. If you are a victim of workplace abuse in Singapore or know someone who is experiencing workplace abuse, do not be afraid to seek help for yourself or for your loved ones. As discussed above, there are multiple avenues for redress, including civil and criminal recourse.

If you are a victim, you can also seek advice from our harassment lawyers, who will be able to help you assess the strength of your case and advise you on the next steps. This way, you will be able to deal with your situation safely and appropriately.

Get in touch with experienced harassment lawyers in Singapore here.

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