Workplace Sexual Harassment
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Sexual Harassment

Legal Rights & Obligations

There is no specific legislation addressing and dealing with the issue of sexual harassment in Singapore.

As the law stands, sexual harassment is not recognised as a distinct legal wrong. That does not mean that victims have no recourse.

Victims may seek civil or criminal redress under the general law, e.g. criminal provisions dealing with outrage of modesty or civil law. However, as there is no specific sexual harassment law, the legal recourse is not as comprehensive as it should be.

Victims of sexual harassment may seek civil or criminal redress against the harasser; or civil remedies against the employer.

Differences between civil law and criminal law [URL]

Civil Claims Against the Harasser

A victim of sexual harassment may bring an action against his or her harasser in trespass (in the case of physical contact) or harassment (in the case of non-physical harassment).

Civil Claims Against the Employer

A victim of sexual harassment may consider the following causes of action against his or her employer:

  • Employer’s duty to ensure the safety of its employees
  • Vicarious liability of harasser’s acts
  • Contractual duty

Criminal Claims Against the Harasser

Criminal law can be used to address cases of sexual harassment. There is currently no specific offence of harassment either in the Penal Code (Cap. 224) or in any other legislation. However, depending on the severity of the sexual harassment, the act in question may be punishable under the Penal Code or some other legislation as a criminal offence.

  1. Non-Physical Acts
    S13A, Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act

    Offence: Any person …with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress to another person —

    • uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour; or
    • displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
      thereby causing that person or any other person harassment, alarm or distress.

    Punishment:  fine not exceeding $5,000.

    S13B, Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act

    Offence: Any person ….

    • uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour; or
    • displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
      within the hearing or sight of any person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.

    Punishment:  fine not exceeding $2,000.

    S509, Penal Code – Insult of Modesty

    Offence: Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman.

    Punishment: Imprisonment up to one year, fine, or both.

  2. Physical Acts
    S354, Penal Code – Outrage of Modesty

    Offence:  Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any person, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage the modesty of that person.

    Punishment: Imprisonment up to 2 years, fine, caning, or any combination of such punishments.

    S375, Penal Code – Rape

    Offence:  Any man who penetrates the vagina of a woman with his penis —

    • without her consent; or
    • with or without her consent, when she is under 14 years of age.

    Punishment: Imprisonment up to 20 years, and fine or caning.

    S376, Penal Code

    Offence: Any man (A) who penetrates, with A’s penis, the anus or mouth of another person (B), without B’s consent.

    Punishment:  Imprisonment up to 20 years, fine or caning.