Malaysia passes Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill with very minor amendments, despite widespread criticism

Malaysia’s Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives) has passed the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2021, despite unaddressed concerns of significant shortcomings in the Bill.

The Bill was initially tabled for its first reading in December 2021 (Read our previous post: “Malaysia’s Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill tabled in Parliament”). It was then withdrawn from a second reading earlier in 2022, with the government indicating that it would be significantly reviewed following robust feedback received from various parties. Unfortunately, the Bill which was passed this week only had very minor amendments from the first draft.

Due to the limited revisions made from the first draft, our summary of the Bill published in December 2021 is still mostly accurate:

These are the material changes in the updated version of the Bill:

  1. A new Clause 7(3) is included, introducing a limitation period for sexual harassment complaints: “A complaint referred to the Tribunal under this Act is subject to the Limitation Act 1953.”
  2. While the original version provided that parties at the hearing of a sexual harassment complaint cannot be represented by an advocate and solicitor, this has been revised [at Clause 13(2)] to provide that legal representation will be allowed if “in the opinion of the Tribunal, the matter in question involves complex issues of law”. The revisions also provide that if one party is allowed to represented by an advocate and solicitor, then the other party will also be so entitled.

With these very limited changes, it appears that the concerns raised by numerous rights organisations who had hoped for “a meticulous review of the Bill” have been left unheard. Time will tell whether the new long-awaited law will be comprehensive enough to protect the rights and wellbeing of sexual harassment victims.

Malaysia’s Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill tabled in Parliament

The Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2021 (“the Bill”) was tabled for its first reading in the Dewan Rakyat earlier today.

Addressing the media, Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff said that the Bill was drafted by a special project team consisting of representatives from government agencies, academicians, NGOs, as well as following consultation with several other stakeholders. According to Siti Zailah, the Bill will lay the foundations for structural reforms which seeks to “address legal gaps and improve the existing justice system”.

Last month, Siti Zailah shared that 775 sexual harassment cases had been reported so far in 2021, and that those cases were being handled through other laws such as the Penal Code, Employment Act, Communications and Multimedia Act, and the Sexual Offences Against Children Act.

This article sets out the key provisions of the current draft of the Bill.

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Case Update: Employer’s poor handling of workplace assault and harassment complaints amounts to constructive dismissal

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In this Case Update series, I share summaries of recent Malaysian court decisions to explore the current approach taken by the courts when deciding on employment-related issues. You can find all the posts in the series by clicking here, including case updates on other legal areas by TheMalaysianLawyer co-founder Lee Shih.

Most employers are now aware of the importance of having clear policies and processes when it comes to handling complaints and disciplinary issues. It’s the norm for businesses hiring a reasonable number of employees to have in place various codes of conduct, guidelines, and policies.

Despite this, an employer that receives an employee complaint and acts on it could still be at risk of being deemed to have breached the terms and conditions of employment, or severed the employment relationship, due to shortcomings in how the complaint was handled.

The Industrial Court recently considered these issues in Justin Maurice Read v. Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas) (Award No. 965 of 2017). In this case, the claimant (the Employee) had complained of being assaulted and harassed in the workplace. The Employee then claimed that the manner in which these complaints were handled by the company (the Employer) entitled him to claim to have been constructively dismissed.

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