Don’t Go Calling Your Colleague ‘Sayang’, That’s Sexual Harassment!

don’t go calling your colleague ‘sayang’, that’s sexual harassment!

Photo via The Business Journal

We’re sure you’ve heard plenty of disgusting stories relating to sexual harassment at the workplace.

But you wouldn’t think friendly banter between colleagues counts, right?

Well, according to Malaysia’s Industrial Court, it does. And after this particular case in Sarawak, the word ‘sayang’ could now be seen as a derogatory term.

It all started when a senior manager at a Kuching-based oil company started getting overly comfortable with his new secretary - calling her ‘sayang’ (a Malay term used as an endearment, typically between two people who are intimate).

Just a few weeks into the job, she had already told him that she didn’t like that he was doing that, but he persisted, even in text messages.

It’s understood that he would say things like, “Sayang, please come early to the office.”, and “Thank you sayang. Have a safe drive. I’m waiting to see my sayang’s smiling face.”

don’t go calling your colleague ‘sayang’, that’s sexual harassment!

Photo via Mid Hudson News

After numerous subsequent instances of disturbing musings, the case was brought to court, after the claimant was dismissed on the grounds of misconduct.

The claimant was charged with four counts of sexual harassment:

  • Called his secretary ‘sayang’ publicly in front of others and through text messages.
  • Committed inappropriate physical behaviour by putting his hands around her shoulders, shaking her hands unnecessarily on a daily basis, and touching her cheek.
  • Gave her unwanted gifts such as expensive perfume, flowers, and chocolate, as well as unwanted attention through text messages and in person.
  • Ordered her to carry out work outside of her job scope including picking him up from the airport, following him to buy clothes for a dinner, and expecting her to show him to his hotel room personally.

According to the Employment Act 1955, sexual harassment is defined 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.”

The company did not find the offender guilty of all four charges but they decided that the first charge – calling his secretary ‘sayang’ – was sufficient to prove that he was sexually harassing her.

And thanks to the court’s decision in the case, non-physical actions can be considered sexual harassment, especially if it’s unwanted.

don’t go calling your colleague ‘sayang’, that’s sexual harassment!

Photo via Insperity

Here’s what you can do if you or someone you know is experiencing sexual harassment at the workplace.

Firstly, don’t hesitate to report any case to your HR department. It’s compulsory for employers to investigate claims of sexual harassment under the Employment Act 1955.

Employers can be fined up to RM10,000 if they fail to do so.

You could also simply lodge a police report.

Finally, a landmark decision by the Federal Court in 2016 now allows sexual harassment survivors to sue their harassers.

If you need more support, you could always call the Women's Aid Organization (+603-79563488) or the All Women's Action Society (+603-78770224).

Never forget that you’re not alone!


by Kyle Roshen Jacob