Malaysia should have a specific law to tackle sexual harassment. FILE PIC

THE government should take sexual harassment seriously by passing a law to deal with it. I am calling for this measure after allegations of sexual harassment by a hospital department head against housemen.

This is in addition to allegations of sexual harassment over the past years.

Sexual harassment is not peculiar to Malaysia, but that is no excuse not to act against it.

Sexual harassment reduces the quality of working life, jeopardises the wellbeing of employees, and affects the reputation of firms where the offence takes place.

There is no legislation that addresses sexual harassment at the workplace in Malaysia.

As the law stands, matters related to sexual harassment are subsumed under the Penal Code (Act 574), Employment Act 1955 (Act 265), Industrial Relations Act 1967 (Act 177) and Occupational Safety & Health Act 1994 (Act 514) as well administrative laws, like the Code of Conduct of the Public Officers (Conduct and Discipline) Regulations 1993 and the government Circular Guidelines for Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, No. 22 (2005).

However, these laws cannot address sexual harassment effectively.

As such, to have a standalone law to address this issue is vital.

In 2001, non-governmental organisations called for a standalone law on sexual harassment. It was then known as the Sexual Harassment Bill 2001.

This proposed bill addressed activities related to sexual harassment and covered sexual harassment in the workplace.

Section 2 of the proposed bill defined workplace as “any place where a person attends for the purpose of carrying out any functions in relation to his or her employment, occupation, business, trade or profession and need not be a person’s principal place of business or employment including a ship, aircraft, vehicle, and virtual or cyber spaces and any other context that results from employment responsibilities or employment relationships”.

It covered harassment at sporting activities, educational institutions and legislative bodies.

If passed, the proposed bill would address points needed to cope with the sensitivity and complexity of sexual harassment cases.

The bill required employers to prevent sexual harassment by creating in-house mechanisms to deal with it.

It provided victims of sexual harassment with access to legal redress.

The proposed bill focused on the creations of a special tribunal, procedure, remedies, counselling, and protection against retaliation and victimisation of victims and witnesses in sexual harassment cases.

Dr Muzaffar Syah Mallow is a Senior lecturer at the Faculty of Syariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, Nilai, Negri Sembilan