SINGAPORE - Companies these days aren't as formal as those in the old days; colleagues and bosses sometimes become friends.

Hence, it can be confusing as to what's counted as proper employer-employee relations. If a colleague or supervisor consistently makes you feel uncomfortable, chances are he or she has overstepped some boundaries such as gender, personal matters or physical characteristics.

Here are some guidelines as to the six lines your boss should never ever cross. And if he or she does cross these lines, be firm and state clearly that such behaviour should stop.

You may be one of the worst workers in your company, but regardless of what mistakes you've made, there are some things your boss should never say to you.

Belittling or insulting an employee is definitely a no-no, as is using vulgarities on someone. Bosses should not only encourage and motivate, they should also lend a listening ear to employees and provide them with the resources and support needed to complete their tasks.

A research study conducted by the group in 2007 - 2008 showed that more than half of 500 people randomly surveyed experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment. Calls to the group about this type of harassment were comparable to the number of calls made about domestic violence in this year alone.

54.4 per cent  reported that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment. 25 per cent knew of other people who had experienced some form of sexual harassment, 30 per cent of those who had been harassed indicated that they had been harassed several times, and 12 per cent of those who had been harassed had threatened with forced termination of their jobs if they did not comply.

The survey also showed there were more female victims (79 per cent) than male victims (21 per cent) and harassers often target junior employees or foreign workers who depend on their job to stay in Singapore.

Laws are limited to deal with offenders

In response, Aware has launched the Sexual Harassment Out (Shout) campaign to highlight the problem of sexual harassment in the Singapore workplace, and give victims a platform to share their experiences anonymously. Companies are also asked to their commitment to implement policies against sexual harassment.

It is also calling for written laws to equip employers to deal specifically with this issue and allow victims to seek assistance in a 70-page report on workplace sexual harassment released today.

In the report, Aware said that most companies do not have any sexual harassment policies or procedures in place, as there is no statutory obligation on employers to do so.

Currently, victims of sexual harassment can complain to their employers or their unions, file a complaint in the Subordinate Courts or lodge a civil suit.

If they have been molested, or their modesty outraged, or even raped, they can file a police report.

But even as these offences can be investigated by police, non-physical harassment such as being subjected to unwelcome or lewd comments are treated as non-seizable offences. This means that police will not be able to arrest the offender.

And often, victims find that they have little recourse in the end and most end up resigning, as civil remedies are expensive and do not award damages for emotional distress and psychological damage, and criminal cases are difficult to prove beyond reasonable doubt.

The report also said that Singapore is obliged under the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to enact legislative provisions on sexual harassment in the workplace and in educational institutions.

The Aware report also cited real-life case studies of victims of sexual harassment, who were unable to bring the offenders to justice. Here are three examples:

Case no. 1: Molested and ashamed

Q, a Vietnamese woman employed as an administrative executive, was molested twice by her manager. The first time he kissed her on the forehead and said it was part of the training. She did not report it as she did not want to make an issue of this.

The second time, he locked her in a room, pinned her against the wall and tried to lift up her skirt. She eventually managed to escape and ran out of the room.

Thereafter, the manager tried to touch Q whenever he saw her. Q did her best to avoid him in the office.

Q was miserable at work but did not report or tell anyone in the office as she was on an “S Pass” and was afraid to lose her job. She was also not very fluent in English and was not very comfortable communicating in English.

At home, she cried to herself during the period of the harassment. She did not tell her husband what happened as she felt ashamed about the incident.

Her husband was deeply concerned and managed finally to get her to tell him about what had happened. He persuaded her to report to the employer, to make a police report and to come to AWARE.

Case no. 2: Sexually abused

T, an administrative clerk, was sexually abused by her boss for close to a year.

She did not report to the police for a long time as she was the sole breadwinner of the family and she was afraid of losing her job during the economic recession.

The company was a very small business run by her boss and his partner.

Initially, the perpetrator touched her breasts and knees. This then escalated to the perpetrator forcing T to perform oral sex on him more than once. Each time she struggled but did not call the police.

About a year after the first incident, the perpetrator tried to rape her. He failed but ejaculated on her.

It was only at this point that she decided to report to the police and to come to AWARE.

Case no. 3: Lusty boss disillusions young employee

P, a Chinese national who graduated from a top US University was employed by the Singapore office of an international bank. P was recruited as part of an elite group of graduate trainees and had signed on to a one year contract with the bank. She was contractually obliged to compensate the bank if she terminated the contract prematurely.

P was forcibly french-kissed and molested by her senior boss after an office party. He continued to harass her for a few months by touching her waist, shoulder and neck and making inappropriate comments about her dressing and his lust for her.

P was distressed and upset by the constant harassment and experienced repeated nightmares and insomnia during this period.

P wanted to resign but felt trapped by her one year commitment and the penalty she would have to pay for premature termination.

P told her direct supervisor about the harassment. The direct supervisor told P that she could not do anything about it as the harasser was “too senior” within the firm and very influential in the industry.

P consulted a lawyer who advised her that there was little that she could do legally and that she should report the case to the Police.

P did not want to report the case to the Police as she wanted to continue working in the industry and did not want to risk having a “bad” reputation.

P then came to AWARE who assisted her to report the case directly to HR. She managed to get some monetary compensation from her employer but was so disillusioned by her experience that she left Singapore and her job to start afresh in a new country.

Victims of sexual harassment or assault may seek help from the Sexual Assault Befriender Service by calling 6779 0282.

Those who wish to support AWARE's SHOUT campaign can also sign the offical petition at http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/shout.