Federal Court recognises tort of sexual harassment

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Source: Malaysiakini

Istana Kehakiman / Palace of Justice ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Istana Kehakiman / Palace of Justice ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

JUNE 02 — There is a need to introduce the tort of sexual harassment into our legal system, the Federal Court decided today.

This is despite there being no legislation in place to award damages for sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Federal Court ruled as such in dismissing the appeal by a former Tabung Haji Risk Management Department general manager on a claim of sexual harassment by a former staff.

“After mulling over the matter, we arrived at a decision to undertake some judicial activism exercise and decide that it is timely to import the tort of harassment in our legal and judicial system, with sexual harassment being part of it,” Federal Court judge Suriyadi Halim Omar, who wrote the landmark judgment, said.

“Sexual harassment is a very serious misconduct and in whatever form it takes, it cannot be tolerated by anyone. In whatever form it comes, it lowers the dignity and respect of the person who is harassed, let alone affecting his or her mental and emotional well-being.

“Perpetrators who go unpunished will continue intimidating, humiliating and traumatising the victims, thus resulting, at least, in an unhealthy working environment,” Justice Suriyadi said.

The court further defined sexual harassment as any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature having the effect of verbal, non-verbal, visual, psychological or physical harassment.

Justice Suriyadi said after perusing the evidence, the bench saw no reason to disturb the factual finding of the High Court judge which led to the dismissal of the main suit by the appellant.

“There was indeed ample evidence to show the appellant had uttered vulgar and sexually explicit rude remarks, either addressed directly to the respondent or in her presence and knowing that she would hear it, justifying the complaint,” said the judge.

“The decision by the High Court over the counter-claim (by the respondent) must be affirmed but based on the tort of sexual harassment,” he added.

Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin chaired the five-member bench of the highest court in the country.

The other judges were Federal Court judges Justices Ahmad Maarop, Ramly Ali and Balia Yusof Wahi.

Victim cried after judgment

After the decision, the victim, Asmah Mohd Nor, who was awarded a total of RM120,000 in general and aggravated damages, was seen crying before her lawyer David Morais.

She was a senior manager with the department when she complained of sexual harassment by her superior officer to her chief executive officer in 2009.

This led to Tabung Haji setting up a committee of inquiry which conducted an inquiry from Sept 1, 2009, to Sept 16, 2009, where the committee found there was insufficient evidence to warrant disciplinary action against the former general manager, Mohd Ridzwan Abdul Razak, but it issued a strong administrative remand to him.

Mohd Ridzwan, who was aggrieved by the complaint, lodged an official complaint to Tabung Haji where he sought disciplinary action against Asmah.

He claimed the complaint had defamed him and that had led to his contract not being renewed

The company did not take any disciplinary action on Asmah. On Dec 9, 2011, Mohd Ridzwan filed a legal action seeking a declaration that he had not sexually harassed Asmah and that he had been defamed by her.

In her defence, Asmah filed her counter-claim and detailed the sexual harassment she faced and cited the sufferings and humiliation she had endured.

She sought damages predicated on sexual harassment.

Lawyer Fahri Azzat, for Mohd Ridzwan, pointed out to the court during his submission that the tort of sexual harassment remained undefined under Malaysian law.

“The Malaysian Code of Practice on the Prevention and Education of Sexual Harassment in the workplace 1999 (Practice Code) is merely a guideline to Malaysian employers and is without any legal force.

“The recent amendment to the Malaysian Employment Act 1955 only imposes a duty on employers to adequately deal with sexual harassment complaints at their workplace,” Fahri submitted.

Justice Suriyadi said the amendment, which came into force on April 1, 2012, provided for the manner where employers should deal with complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace.

“Unfortunately, it did not address the rights and liabilities of the harasser and the victim,” he said.

The question of law posed before the bench was “is there a valid cause of action for a civil claim on grounds of sexual harassment under the existing laws of Malaysia?”

Justice Suriyadi refrained from answering the question.

“With the tort of sexual harassment being freshly introduced into our legal and judicial system, we, therefore, refrain from answering this question,” he said.

Morais said with this judgment by the highest court in the country recognised the common law of awarding damages for sexual harassment.

“With this landmark judgment, workers who are sexually harassed can file a cause of action,” he said.


Mangsa gangguan seksual boleh saman pelaku

Sumber: Bernama

The Palace of Justice in Putrajaya. It is the courts that should decide the best sentence to be imposed on a convicted person, taking into account the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case. - File pix

The Palace of Justice in Putrajaya. It is the courts that should decide the best sentence to be imposed on a convicted person, taking into account the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case. – File pix

Mangsa gangguan seksual di tempat kerja boleh memfaikan saman sivil bagi menuntut ganti rugi terhadap pelaku kerana tindakan salah laku itu tidak boleh diterima, demikian keputusan bersejarah Mahkamah Persekutuan di Putrajaya hari ini.

Hakim Tan Sri Suriyadi Halim Omar menegaskan bahawa gangguan seksual adalah salah laku serius dalam apa jua bentuk dan ia tidak dapat diterima oleh sesiapa sahaja.

Ketika menolak rayuan bekas pengurus besar, Jawatankuasa Pengurusan Risiko, Tabung Haji (TH), Mohd Ridzwan Abdul Razak, katanya, gangguan seksual dalam apa
jua bentuk merendahkan maruah dan penghormatan orang yang diganggu, apatah lagi menjejaskan kesejahteraan mental dan kestabilan emosi.

“Pelaku bebas tanpa hukuman akan terus menakutkan, memalukan dan mengkibatkan trauma kepada mangsa sehingga mewujudkan suasana tempat kerja yang tidak sihat,” katanya dalam penghakiman setebal 42 halaman.

Selepas meneliti kes itu, katanya, panel lima hakim sebulat suara bersetuju dengan mangsa Asmah Mohd Nor, selaku responden, bahawa tindakan diambil terhadap gangguan seksual itu dihujah dengan secukupnya serta disokong dengan butiran gangguan tersebut.

Suriyadi berkata terdapat bukti secukup untuk menunjukkan bahawa perayu (Mohd Ridzwan) telah melazafkan kenyataan lucah dan biadap sama ada secara langsung kepada responden atau pada kehadiranya dengan niat dia akan mendengarnya.

Mohd Ridzwan merayu terhadap keputusan Mahkamah Rayuan menolak permohonan terhadap keputusan Mahkamah Tinggi bahawa dia telah mengganggu bekas rakan sekerjanya itu.

Pada 24 Sept, 2012, Mahkamah Tinggi menolak saman Mohd Ridzwan terhadap Asmah untuk menuntut deklarasi bahawa dia tidak melakukan gangguan seksual terhadap wanita itu dan dia telah difitnah oleh beliau.

Mahkamah Tinggi memberi penghakiman untuk tuntutan balas oleh Asmah dan memberikan ganti rugi am dan ganti rugi teruk berjumlah RM120,000 kerana mengalami kemurungan yang serius.

Pada prosiding hari ini, panel diketuai Hakim Besar Malaya, Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin mengarahkan Mohd Ridzwan membayar RM20,000 sebagai kos kepada Asmah, yang turut hadir di mahkamah.

Hakim lain dalam panel tersebut ialah Suriyadi, Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop, Datuk Ramly Ali dan Datuk Balia Yusof Wahi.

Ini merupaskan kes pertama mangsa gangguan seksual di tempat kerja menuntut penyelesaian daripada mahkamah sivil.

Suriyadi berkata adalah ternyata bahawa tidak ada kes yang dilaporkan berhubung Akta Kerja 1955 di mana mangsa individu telah menuntut penyelesaian daripada pelaku didakwa merlakukan gangguan seksual.

“Dalam Akta Kerja 1955, mangsa kini berhak untuk membuat aduan kepada majikan dan menghendaki majikan menyiasat gangguan seksual.

“Walau bagaimapun, diakui sebagai berkata sebelum ini, tiada wujud tindakan sivil untuk gangguan seksual di bawah undang-undang negara,” katanya.

Sebaliknya, katanya, Kod Amalan Untuk Mencegah dan Membasmi Gangguan Seksual Di Tempat Kerja 1999 (Kod Amalan 1999) hanya digunakan oleh majikan sebagai garis panduan tanpa sebarang kuasa undang-undang.

Beliau berkata panel hakim mengakui Kod Amalan 1999 hanya semata-mata garis panduan secara kolektif bagi membolehkan majikan menubuhkan mekanisme dalaman di
peringkat organisasi bagi mencegah dan membasmi masalah gangguan seksual di tempat kerja.

Suriyadi berkata Kod Amalan itu tidak memberikan sebarang jalan untuk mangsa selain di tempat kerja.

Undang-undang tort

Menurutnya pindaan terkini terhadap Akta Kerja 1955 hanya mengenakan kewajipan ke atas majikan untuk menangani aduan gangguan seksual dengan sebaik mungkin di tempat kerja.

Selepas memikirkan perkara itu, katanya, panel telah mencapai keputusan untuk melaksanakan aktivisme kehakiman dan memutuskan bahawa sudah tiba masa untuk mengimport tort gangguan ke dalam sistem undang-undang dan kehakiman dengan gangguan seksual menjadi sebahagian daripadanya.

Suriyadi berkata undang-undang tort di negara ini masih lagi berdasarkan prinsip Common Law Inggeris.

“Sehingga Akta Kerja (Pindaan) 2012 berkuat kuasa hanya 1 April 2012, tidak ada peruntukan undang-undang sama sekali mengenai gangguan seksual di Malaysia,” katanya.

Bagaimanapun, katanya, pindaan itu memperuntukkan kaedah cara majikan harus menangani aduan gangguan seksual di tempat kerja tetapi malangnya tidak menangani hak dan liabiliti pelaku dan mangsa.

Panel itu turut menggariskan definisi gangguan seksual dalam bentuk lisan dan juga fizikal termasuk sindiran seksual, komen dan ucapan berbaur lucah, kelakuan tidak senonoh, bunyi tidak senonoh, lucah atau menghina, ancaman seksual secara tersirat, pandangan berahi, menjeling, memaparkan gambar-gambar menghina dan membuat isyarat lucah.