Lawyer: No to ‘sayang’ or ‘dear’ in line with cases in court

PETALING JAYA: The directive by the government in classifying acts of sexual harassment coincides with several landmark cases in court, says a legal practitioner.

Chia Swee Yik said the recently passed Anti-Sexual Harassment Act 2022 that came into force on March 28 was also another factor that paved the way for such a move.

“In the past, such protection was only confined to the context of private employment.

“Calling a colleague ‘sayang’ or ‘dear’ is deemed to be a form of sexual harassment in light of several industrial court cases recently,” he said.

Chia said though both words are commonly used as terms of endearment by many, it depends on the conduct of the perpetrator towards the victim, whether it is offensive, humiliating or a threat to one’s well-being.

“It is quite encouraging to see the Public Services Commission (PSC) taking the lead to raise awareness and prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment,” he said.

The Act defines sexual harassment as any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, in any form, whether verbal, non-verbal, visual, gestural or physical, directed at a person which is reasonably offensive or humiliating or is a threat to his well-being.

This was preceded by the Employment Act 1955 (amendment) which defines sexual harassment as any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, whether verbal, non-verbal, visual, gestural or physical, directed at a person which is offensive or humiliating or is a threat to his well-being, arising out of and in the course of his employment.

Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor executive director Irene Xavier said that in English, “dear” is not a term for sexual harassment as it is used in letters, both official and casual.

However, she said if the word is used with other unwanted touch or close proximity, it could be deemed as unwanted attention.

“I am not an expert on the Malay language to comment on ‘sayang’. Generally, they are both common terms which do not carry a sexual connotation.

“Both words may be used by certain people to cross the boundary. So these persons need to be told that they must stop using these terms as it make people uncomfortable.

“If the speaker refuses, then it must be regarded as offensive language,” she said.

The Congress of Union of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) secretary-general, Abdul Rahman Mohd Nordin, said they fully supported the move by the PSC.

He said this could be due to such incidents being on the rise.

In the PSC circular dated April 7, office romance, affairs and accounts of what constitute as sexual harassment, whether verbal, physical and visual, have been outlined.

Among the listed form of sexual harassment is referring to colleagues as “sayang” or “dear”.

“Sexting” has been classified as visual sexual harassment while physical sexual harassment are those related to touching, holding, molesting, kissing, pinching and hugging.

The effects of the sexual harassment causing mental disturbances, discomfort and humiliation are also listed.

The circular said those guilty of the offences could face disciplinary action under Regulation 4A of the Public Officers Regulations (Conduct and Discipline) 1993.

Those who flout the regulations will be punished by the disciplinary board with either demotions, revoking of emoluments and termination.

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