Under-fire BFM interviews lawyer on sexual harassment

BFM said it has appointed an independent party to assist investigations on the sexual harassment complaint. — Picture via Facebook
BFM said it has appointed an independent party to assist investigations on the sexual harassment complaint. — Picture via Facebook

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 — BFM today spoke to a lawyer about sexual harassment, even as the radio station is facing public outrage after an anonymous letter accused two male staff of sexually propositioning female colleagues.

BFM presenter Lee Chwi Lynn interviewed human rights lawyer Honey Tan on the Evening Edition about workplace policies against sexual harassment and how sexual harassment investigations are conducted.

“As a station that has always advocated for transparency and talking about difficult issues openly, the truth is it's been very, very hard to deal with, especially since it hits so close to home,” Lee said.

“In the days that have passed, we found ourselves trying to process the events. One of the recurring questions has been exactly how investigations of this nature are conducted.”

Lee asked Tan if it was necessary to have an external investigator for a probe on a sexual harassment complaint to be considered independent.

Tan replied it wasn’t and highlighted the Employment Act 1955 that envisaged a company having a tribunal to run a domestic inquiry.

“If there is a complaint lodged and the company doesn't do it within certain time, then the employee can take the matter to the Ministry of Human Resources,” said Tan.


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The lawyer also said an investigation panel should ideally comprise more women than men and investigators should have had gender sensitisation training.

BFM said recently it has appointed an independent party to assist investigations on the sexual harassment complaint.

Lee asked about privacy and confidentiality in sexual harassment reports and investigations, to which Tan said the identities of both the victim and accused should be protected.

“You should also try to protect the identity of harasser because that person at that time is only an accused person, somebody against whom a complaint has been lodged. So I would say overall, it's good if you have something that's a more confidential process,” said Tan.

The writer of the letter that alleged sexual harassment and even a rape incident at BFM did not reveal her identity, but named two male staff who allegedly sexually harassed her and other female colleagues with sexual propositions and comments on their dressing.

The complainant also accused BFM’s top management of inaction over the “predatory culture” in the business radio station and expressed fear of losing her job if she spoke up. Her letter was sent to the media, but screenshots of it later went viral.

Tan said sexual harassment victims could file a complaint in their workplace for a domestic inquiry to be conducted or file a civil case against their attackers, noting that one can now sue for sexual harassment due to a landmark Federal Court ruling in the Mohd Ridzwan Abdul Razak v Asmah Mohd Nor case.

“The third thing the victim can do is lodge a police report because sexual harassment is actually a crime,” said the lawyer, highlighting Section 354 and Section 509 of the Penal Code respectively that outlaw outraging of modesty and using words or gestures intending to insult one’s modesty.

Tan stressed the importance of respect for coworkers, no matter the workplace culture or industry.

“If I were an employer, I would want to err on side of caution. Don't even make dirty jokes,” she said.

“If you're with your friends and you’re on a certain wavelength, it's fine. But in the workplace, there are different sensitivities, religions, backgrounds. What may be funny to you may not be funny to them and can be quite distressing.”


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