Let’s talk about workplace harassment.

Job descriptions in Malaysia come with some specific requirements: one that stands out is the typical “specific language skills needed” which may leave out a few groups of people. Whether you like it or not, our employment environment is full of subtle discrimination against race, religion, gender, disability, nationality – you name it.

But as someone who is in the working field yourself, how can you prevent this from happening?

Identifying discrimination in the workplace

Malaysia does not have a specific act that addresses workplace discrimination in the legislation, but the provisions in the Employment Act 1955 concerning statutory benefits and labour protection are ‘applicable to all workers irrespective of sex, religion and national extraction’.

Simply put, any act of discrimination: be it direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation of a specific person or group of people in the workplace must never be tolerated by anyone.

Avoiding discrimination before it happens

A lot of factors could warrant a discrimination towards your colleagues: being of a minority race in the office, a clothing piece that reflects their religion and beliefs, their chosen genders and even private things such as their sexuality.

A good way to prevent discrimination from happening towards them is simply by not justifying the differences between you and them objectively. It’s not that hard to agree that other people can have different beliefs, cultures or ways of life than the rest. By respecting the differences, it is also easier for you to stay professional in your conduct and speech towards them. This is important as some people do not know how far they can go with their jokes in the workplace, and ended up insulting someone’s protected features – race, color, national origin, religion, gender (including pregnancy), disability, age etc – in their ‘jokes’.

Confronting discrimination as it happens

Things might be a little different if you see a discrimination is taking place in front of your eyes. You might have a ‘fight or flight’ response to the situation, but take your time to assess it logically.

If you are unsure whether a discrimination is taking place and you feel that you have the ability to communicate with the parties involved, it is highly recommended that you do it outside of working hours. Do note that sometimes a misunderstanding can be seen as aggression, especially by outsiders. However, if it is confirmed that some type of harassment is taking place, always do your best to speak up for or support your colleagues who are being discriminated against as they bring it to the management level for the right actions to be taken against the perpetrators.

Our law is still behind in protecting our employees against the casual and subtle discrimination in Malaysia, but we can always start something individually. Do not be afraid to confront discrimination when you see it happens, because a discrimination made visible by someone is how the workplace policies are amended and fixed to protect everyone else.

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