IJSW-April-2012.pdf
THE INDIAN JOURNAL
OF
SOCIAL WORK
Tata Institute
of
Volume 73, Issue 2
Social Sciences
April 2012
Perception o Sexual Harassment among
Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia
PONMALAR N. ALAGAPPAR, MAYA KHEMLANI DAVID AND RAMESH RAO
Malaysians from diverse ethnic backgrounds interpret verbal and nonverbal cues in
relation to sexual harassment differently. This arises from differences in religious and
socialisation practices despite a shared commonality of a Malaysian culture (Li and
Lee-Wong, 2005). The study investigats perceptions of female hotel employees in Ma-
laysia concerning sexual harassment. It explores how age, race, marital status, educa-
tional level, occupational position, department, and the number of years employed in u-
ence perception of sexual harassment. Understanding hotel employees’ perceptions of
sexual harassment will help managers prepare appropriate sexual harassment policies
and know what areas of the issue to focus on during training and in the long run, help
reduce sexual harassment lawsuits (Agrusa and others, 2002).
Ponmalar N. Alagappar is with the Section for Co-curricular Courses, External Faculty
Electives and TITAS (SKET); and Maya Khemlani David is Faculty of Languages and
Linguistics, University of Malaya, Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. Ramesh Rao is with the
English Language Teaching Centre, Kauala Lumpur, Malaysia.

INTRODUCTION
In Malaysia, sexual harassment is an issue experienced by many
companies on a regular basis and the problem is fast becoming a matter
of increasing concern (The Star, 2006).1 According to Ismail and Lee
(2005), the nature and frequency of sexual harassment in Malaysia does
not differ too much from the situation found in the United States. Past
studies and news reports have indicated that up to 70 percent of women
in Malaysia have experienced at least one form of sexual harassment at
work (Lim, 2008; Ismail, Lee and Chen, 2007; Ismail and Lee, 2005;
Sabitha, 2008, 2005, 2001; Lekha and others, 2003; Zarizana, 2003 and
Barathi, 2003).
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196 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
Women in Malaysia comprise 47.3 percent of the nation’s workforce
and the government is working towards increasing this to 55 percent by
2015 (Gomez, 2011). The hospitality industry is particularly vulnerable
to sexual harassment (Lin, 2006; Poulston, 2008). The existing empirical
evidence indicates that sexual harassment is more widespread in the
hospitality industry than in society at large (Cho, 2002).
Sexual harassment in the hospitality/restaurant industry is not clear-
cut (Agrusa and others, 2002) as the nature of the service involves close
relationships between employees and customers (Poulston, 2008).The number
of lawsuits on sexual harassment led by women employed in the hospitality
industry has become a matter of great concern (Coats, Agrusa and Tanner,
2004). The rst reported and led case of sexual harassment in the Malaysian
hotel industry involved a general manager of Copthorne Orchid Hotel in
Penang. In 2000, four female employees led a complaint against the General
Manager, a German National, for verbal and physical harassment. The women
were summarily dismissed from the organisation. They then approached the
Industrial Court for wrongful dismissal. In 2007, the Industrial Court nally
ruled in favour of them and awarded them a total of MYR 308,642 as arrears
in wages and compensation in lieu of reinstatement.2
Sexual harassment has a negative impact on work performance,
psychological health and physical health. A study of sexual harassment
in the hotel industry in Korea by Cho (2002) revealed that the negative
impact of sexual harassment as reported by respondents was manifested
as decreased psychological health (for example, tension, nervousness,
persistent anger and fear of an unfair situation with few good solutions
available); increased absenteeism; reporting late for work; uncertainty
regarding their own skills and reduced accomplishments; and employee
turnover, all of which may lead to decreased productivity; followed by
physical health problems (for example, tiredness, headaches and nausea).
Despite education and awareness, resource professionals believe that
the biggest problem is that the majority of employees and managers are still
unsure as to what constitutes sexual harassment (Agrusa and others, 2002).
An important issue that arises when trying to de ne sexual harassment is
to identify which behaviours are harassing (Rotunda and others, 2001).
Malaysians from diverse ethnic backgrounds interpret verbal and
nonverbal cues in relation to sexual harassment differently. This no
doubt arises from differences in socialisation and religious practices (for
example, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism) despite a shared
commonality (Li and Lee-Wong, 2005) of a Malaysian culture.
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 197
Also, Malaysia traditionally follows the patriarchal system (Sabitha,
2008). In this sociocultural context, men are seen as the dominant group.
(Sakall -U urlu and others, 2010; Sabitha, 2008). According to available
literature, patriarchal values and attitudes towards women pose great
challenges in the resolution and prevention of sexual harassment (Sabitha,
2008).
A study by Roziah and others (2006) of Malaysian public administrators
found that male respondents showed low awareness of psychological (47.8
percent) and visual (37.3 percent) sexual harassment. The nature of sexual
harassment varies according to the culture of the organisation (Roziah
and others, 2006). This is especially true as the inherent characteristics of
service organisations create a prime breeding ground for sexual harassment
(Gilbert, Guerrier and Guy, 1998). The informal environment of the hotel
industry and close contacts with co-workers and customers, offers female
employees an opportunity for increased socialisation and interaction with
their male colleagues.
Sabitha and Sharifah’s (2008) study had indicated that management
could play a major role in controlling sexual harassment at the workplace,
that is, management can act as a role model in providing a climate that
discourages sexual harassment. Hence, it is important for managers to
realise the importance of a sexual harassment-free work environment
and understand how employees feel about the issue (Agrusa and others,
2002).
Thus far, sexual harassment studies in Malaysia have been mainly
conducted among government employees and workers in manufacturing
industries (Mano and Kamarul, 2008; Ismail, Lee and Chen, 2007; Ismail
and Lee, 2005; Lekha and others, 2003; Barathi, 2003); no studies relating
to the hospitality industry have been identi ed to date. The prupose of this
study is to examine the perception and understanding of sexual harassment
among female employees in the hotel industry.
History o Sexual Harassment in Malaysia
Recognising that sexual harassment is a widespread problem, the Ministry
of Human Resources, Malaysia, launched the ‘Code of Practice on the
Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’ in
August, 1999. This was the rst attempt by the government to de ne
and address sexual harassment in the work place. It is the only of cial
de nitive document by the Malaysian government to address the problem
of sexual harassment.
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198 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
The Code of Practice acts as a guideline to employees, trade unions
and other relevant parties on the protection of the dignity of men and
women at work. However, adopting the Code of Practice is voluntary
for employers and the Ministry of Human Resources does not have the
legal force to pressurise all companies to adopt sexual harassment policies
(NST, 29/3/2009, p20). The effectiveness of the Code of Practice relies
heavily on the persuasive power of the Ministry of Human Resources and
the compliance of management (NST, 21/11/2005:18).
Asian countries have only now started to recognise the signi cance
and consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace (Cho,
2002). At present, there is no Act in Malaysia that speci cally deals
with sexual harassment in the workplace. Although the Ministry of
Human Resources has proposed a speci c law be enacted to regulate
sexual harassment at the workplace, this has been met with resistance
from certain quarters such as the Malaysian Employers Federation.
The Malaysian Employers Federation was of the view that sexual
harassment is a form of misconduct and as such, issues pertaining to
sexual harassment need to be handled by way of disciplinary action
(NST, 19/08/2004:2 and 23/08/2004:10) and the Code of Practice on
the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
and the Penal Code are suf cient.
In September 2008 the Human Resources Minister, Dr. Datuk S.
Subramaniam announced that sexual harassment would be deemed an
offence after its incorporation into the Employment Act 1955. In July 2010,
it was announced that the sexual harassment bill would be incorporated
into the Employment (Amendment) Act 1955 (NST, 20/07/2010:19).
This is a landmark amendment because currently there is only a code
of guidelines to deal with sexual harassment (NST, 10/07/2010:18).
Additionally, if it is found to be adequate, the ministry is also looking at
making it a regulation for all employers to adopt the Code of Practice on
the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
(NSUNT, 9/11/2008:29). Regrettably, the introduction of the Employment
(Amendment) Bill 2010 was withdrawn after it was tabled for second
reading in the parliament in October 2010.
As there are no constitutional guidelines on sexual harassment in
Malaysia, sexual harassment as a term can lead to widely differing
explanations (Li and Lee-Wong, 2005). Thus, it is important to determine
the classi cation of sexual harassment and the variables that affect the
perception of sexual harassment of Malaysian women employees.
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 199
De nition o Sexual Harassment as per the Malaysian
Code o Practice
The Malaysian Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment (Malaysia:
Ministry of Human Resources, 1999) in the workplace has de ned sexual
harassment as:
Any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature having the effect of verbal,
non-verbal, visual, psychological or physical harassment:
(i) that might, on reasonable grounds, be perceived by the recipient as
placing a condition of a sexual nature on her/his employment.
or
(ii) that might, on reasonable grounds, be perceived by the recipient as
an offence, humiliation, or a threat to her/his well-being, but has no direct
link to her/his employment.
Based on the above de nition sexual harassment may be viewed as
comprising two parts — sexual coercion and sexual annoyance.
(i) Sexual Coercion: is sexual harassment that results in some direct
consequence to the victim’s employment. An example of sexual harassment
of this coercive kind is when a superior who has the power over salary and
promotion, attempts to coerce a subordinate to grant the former sexual
favours. If the subordinate accedes to the superior’s sexual solicitation,
job bene ts will follow. Conversely, if the subordinate refuses, job bene ts
are denied.
(ii) Sexual Annoyance: is sexually-related conduct that is offensive,
hostile or intimidating to the recipient, but nonetheless has no direct
link to any job bene t. However, the annoying conduct creates a non-
conducive working environment, which the recipient has to tolerate in
order to continue working. Sexual harassment by an employee against a
co-employee falls into this category. Similarly, harassment by a company’s
client against an employee also falls into this category.
Within the context of this code, sexual harassment in the workplace
includes any employment-related sexual harassment occurring even
outside the workplace as a result of employment responsibilities or
employment relationships. A situation under which such employment-
related sexual harassment may take place includes, but is not limited to:
(i) at work-related social functions; (ii) in the course of work assignment
outside the workplace; (iii) at work-related conferences or training
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200 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
sessions; (iv) during work-related travel; (v) over the phone; and (vi)
through electronic media.
The Code of Practice oulines ve possible forms of sexual harassment
and provides examples of such a behaviour. These are:
1. Verbal harassment — offensive or suggestive remarks, comments,
jokes, jesting, kidding, sounds, questionning.
2. Non-verbal/gestural harassment — leering or ogling with suggestive
overtones, licking lips or eating food provocatively, hand signals or
sign language denoting sexual activity, persistent irting.
3. Visual harassment — showing pornographic materials, drawing sex-
based sketches or writing sex-based letters, sexual exposure.
4. Psychological harassment — repeated, relentless and unwanted social
invitations.
5. Physical harassment
—inappropriate touching, patting, pinching,
stroking, brushing up against the body, hugging, kissing, fondling,
sexual assult.
Sexual Harassment in the Hospitality Industry
In a study by Ng and Pine (2003) on Hong Kong’s hotel industry, where
female and male managers were asked to perceive factors related to career
success and obstacles, both female and male managers agreed that factors
such as sexual harassment, being married and childcare responsibility
were the least of the obstacles in their career development. Poulston
(2008) explained that among the mature hospitality academics, there is
a strong ethos of ‘it’s just part of the industry’, when it came to issues of
sexual harassment.
Poulston’s (2008) study on levels of sexual harassment in New Zealand
hospitality workplaces found that sexual harassment was most common
in front-of-house positions such as food and beverages, and the front
of ce, particularly affecting casual and part-time female staff. Most of the
harassment was caused by guests, peers, junior and senior staff. The study
also indicated that harassment from peers was greater when compared to
harassment from seniors, suggesting that the traditions of sexual behaviour
in the hospitality industry may be more due to in uence and socialisation
patterns rather than power relationships. The study identi ed managers as
responsible for 23 percent of the sexual harassment, peers for 26 percent,
customers for 39 percent, and juniors 11.5 percent.
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 201
Lin’s (2006) study on incidence of sexual harassment encountered
by students during their practical training in the Taiwanese hospitality
industry found that incidences of sexual harassment was very common;
about 97 percent of the respondents indicated that they had experienced
sexual harassment at least once. The study looked at the frequency of
19 types of harassment experienced by the students. Gender harassment
and seduction were the most frequently reported situations. The study
identi ed supervisors to be the largest group of harassers for both the male
and female victims.
Cho’s (2002) study of sexual harassment in Korean hotels found that the
most common type of sexual harassment was verbal, followed by physical,
visual, and the display of sexual photographs or drawings. Employees
faced harassment not only from supervisors, but also from co-workers and
clientele. The ndings of this study corroborates with Poulston’s (2008)
study that sexual harassment was more an in uence than power relations.
When it came to dealing with harassment, the respondents said that
they were more assertive in voicing their displeasure. They asked the
harasser to stop or apologise, sought counselling, or led an internal/
external report. Also, the respondents found that the most effective way
to prevent sexual harassment was by tackling the issue through unions
or women’s associations, use of institutional prohibition, and education
to reinforce internal inhibitors. Signi cantly, only 7.4 percent of the
respondents believed that education could help prevent sexual harassment.
The majority preferred a more direct and restrictive prevention method.
Di erences in Perception o Sexual Harassment
A study comparing male and female responses on perception and attitudes
of restaurant employees in Hong Kong (Coats, Agrusa and Tanner,
2004) stated that females perceived comments on appearance, leering
at co-workers, and telling jokes with explicit sexual content as sexual
harassment. On the other hand, males did not consider the same as sexual
harassment.
Agrusa and others’ (2002) study on the difference in perception
among restaurant employees in Hong Kong and New Orleans found
some signi cant differences between the two groups. The New Orleans
respondents agreed with the statement that vendors asking employees for
dates in the workplace and commenting on appearances was indeed sexual
harassment while respondents from Hong Kong disagreed. This perceptual
difference is signi cant. Also, a signi cantly larger number of New Orleans
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202 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
respondents working in restaurants said the establishments had sexual
harassment policies. They agreed that sexual harassment occurred more
frequently in their work environment than in other industries, and that
such behaviour is more accepted in the restaurant industry as compared to
other industries. The study concluded that these differences in perception
could be culture-speci c.
OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
Sexual harassment is experienced predominantly by women (Terpstra and
Cook, 1985). Therefore, in this study, it is assumed that women are the
victims and men are the perpetrators. Moreover, Asian respondents tend
to be more conservative in their sexual behaviour and that a substantial
minority of women felt attered by the attention that the researchers de ned
as sexual harassment (Powell, 1983). Also, Kennedy and Gorzalka’s (2002)
study revealed that Asian students were signi cantly more conservative in
attitudes towards sexual behaviour, that is, more tolerant of rape myths
and more accepting of sexual harassment.
The aim of this study is to determine the demographic variables that
affect the perception of sexual harassment among female hotel employees
in Malaysia: a) age; b) race; c) marital status; d) level of education; e) job
position; f) department; and g) years employed in the hospitality industry.
To carry out the study, the following research questions were addressed:
1) What are the determinant variables that shape the perceptions of fe-
male workers towards sexual harassment?
2) Are the perceptions of female Malaysians signi cantly different from
those in other countries?
As this study may be the rst in the Malaysian hospitality industry,
the ndings will help determine the perception of female hotel employees
regarding sexual harassment.
RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
Sample
Malaysian female employees working in hotels in the state of Pulau Pinang
(Penang) and Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, participated in this research. The
participants of this study were selected through the convenient sampling
technique, that is, employees of hotels willing to participate in the study. Ten
hotels ( ve, four or three star) participated in the study, ve from each state.
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 203
Tools or Data Collection
The purpose of the study was explained to the personnel managers of the
selected hotels. Each hotel was given 50 questionnaires with attached cover
letters. The personnel managers were asked to hand out the questionnaires
to female employees only, keeping in mind the various variables of age,
race, job position, department, and length of employment. The completed
questionnaires were to be returned within three weeks.
As this was a voluntary activity, no employee was compelled to ll
the form. Moreover, the participants were not required to disclose their
name. As the questionnaire took about 10 -15 minutes to complete,
most employees lled the data during their break time and were given
a small token of appreciation for participating in the study. Of the 500
questionnaires distributed, only 299 were usable, representing a response
rate of 59 percent.
Instrument
Literature shows that measuring sexual harassment is not a simple task.
The different measures generally fall under two distinct approaches: (a)
the direct query survey, which allows the respondent to de ne sexual
harassment, and (b) the behavioural experiences survey, which provides
the respondent with a list of experiences de ned by the researcher to
constitute sexual harassment (IIies and others, 2003).
In his meta-analytic review of studies using both direct query approach
and behavioural experiences approach, Ilies and others (2003) found that
the direct query approach had produced lower sexual harassment estimates
than the behavioural experiences approach. The behavioural measure has
the advantages of reducing perceptual bias of respondents and allowing
meaningful comparisons across studies and time. This explains the choice
of using a questionnaire rather than asking the female employees to state
their understanding of sexual harassment.
This study was undertaken using the instrument developed by Popovich
and others (1986), which included a list of ten behaviours considered to be
possible examples of sexual harassment. The instrument was in line with
the de nition of sexual harassment provided in the Malaysian Code of
Practice on Sexual Harassment.
Participants were asked to rate the degree to which they considered
speci c behaviours to be sexual harassment, and a 5-point likert scale
ranging from de nitely sexual harassment to de nitely not sexual
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

204 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
harassment was used. A value of 5 was assigned to ‘de nitely sexual
harassment’, 4 to ‘probably sexual harassment’, 3 to ‘don’t know’, 2 to
‘probably not sexual harassment’, and 1 to de nitely not sexual harassment.
Respondents were asked to give their level of agreement that most closely
corresponded with their perception of these statements (Coats, Agrusa and
Tanner, 2004).
The research questionnaire developed for this study included questions
pertaining to demographics, that is, age, race, ethnicity, marital status,
educational level, occupational position, department, and years employed.
Such demographic characteristics have been shown to have in uenced
the perception of sexual harassment for women in past studies (Poulston,
2008; Ohse and Stockdale, 2008; Li and Lee-Wong, 2005; Coats, Agrusa
and Tanner, 2004; Cho, 2002; Foulis and McCabe, 1997; and Popovich
and others, 1986). It is important to see if similar demographic variables
in uence the perception of Malaysian women employees in the hotel
industry.
To measure the validity and reliability of the research instrument, the
questionnaire was tested by administering a sample of 30 administrative
employees. A convenient sampling of 10 Malay, 10 Chinese and 10
Indian employees was used. The questionnaire was in both English and
Malay because it was anticipated that some respondents might not be
conversant in the English language. The research instrument was revised
on the basis of the comments and suggestions made by the respondents
and the Ministry of Human Resources, Malaysia (1999) on the usage of
appropriate sexual terms in Malay and English. The reliability test of the
revised instrument obtained a value of Cronbach’s alpha 0.79, which is
slightly higher than the recommended threshold value of 0.7 (Nunnaly,
1978).
In analysing the data, the use of inferential statistics such as mean
rating, independent T-test (Anova) and F Value for analysis of variance
was performed to test any signi cant differences in the perception of
sexual harassment by different groups based on the given demographic
variables.
Limitations
The study, however, has several limitations that need to be taken into
consideration when interpreting the ndings. First, the sample only
consisted of a group of hotels from two states only. Second, the participants
used in this study were considered convenient samples based on the
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 205
hotel’s willingness to participate and as such were susceptible to sampling
bias. Third, the relatively short length of the questionnaire also limited
the inclusion of more behavioural items. Fourth, the grouping within the
demographic characteristics did not provide a relatively even number of
respondents in each group and as a result there may be some exceptions
to the results.
RESULTS AND ANALYSIS OF DATA
Due to the lack of research on sexual harassment in the hospitality industry
of Malaysia, the results of this study were compared with studies done
in other Asian countries. In particular, three studies were used in making
comparisons:
(a) Hong Kong and New Orleans: A Comparative Study of Perceptions
of Restaurant Employees on Sexual Harassment (Agrusa and others,
2002);
(b) Sexual Harassment in Hong Kong: Perceptions and Attitudes of Res-
taurant Employees (Coats, Agrusa and Tanner, 2004); and
(c) A Study on Singaporeans’ Perceptions of Sexual Harassment from a
Cross-cultural Perspective (Li and Lee-Wong, 2005).
The results of the current study support the ndings of these three
studies.
The de nition of sexual harassment by The Malaysian Code of Practice
on Sexual Harassment indicates that all the behaviours listed in the
questionnaire are regarded as sexual harassment.
The demographic characteristics of the respondents are shown in Table
1. Most (56.5 percent) of the respondents were Malays, the Indians made
up 27.5 percent of the sample and the Chinese 16 percent. With respect to
marital status about 50 percent of the respondents were single, 40 percent
were married and the remaining 10 percent were divorced, separated or
widowed. The respondents were more or less within the age group of
20–29 years (42 percent) and 30–39 years (36 percent), 13 percent were
aged 40 years and above, and 8 percent were below the age of 20 years.
More than 60 percent of the respondents’ level of education was SPM
(Malaysian Certi cate of Education) which is equivalent to “O” Levels
and 24 percent had a diploma, 0.9 percent had STPM (Malaysian Higher
School Certi cate) which is equivalent to “A” Levels and 0.7 percent were
degree holders.
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206 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
TABLE1: Demographic Characteristics of Respondents
Variable
Below
20-29
30-39
40-49
Total
20
Race
Malay
12
71
65
21
169
Chinese
4
22
18
4
48
Indian
9
33
25
15
82
Total
25
126
108
40
299
Marital
Single
25
92
32
2
151
Status
Married
0
29
62
29
120
Separated
0
3
5
0
8
Divorced
0
2
8
3
15
Widowed
0
0
1
6
7
Total
25
126
108
40
299
Level of
SPM/MCE and
22
77
48
32
179
Education
below
STPM/HSE
2
14
9
3
28
Diploma
1
26
41
4
72
Degree
0
9
10
1
20
Total
25
126
108
40
299
Job Position
Managerial
0
0
7
2
9
Supervisors
2
22
25
8
57
Entry Level
23
104
76
30
232
Total
25
126
108
40
299
Department
House keeping
7
17
12
25
61
Food and Beverages
14
55
33
6
108
Front Of ce
2
27
37
3
69
Others
2
27
26
6
61
Total
25
126
108
40
299
Length of
1 – 2
23
57
6
4
90
employment
3 – 5
2
65
76
5
148
(years)
5 – 10
0
3
24
19
46
10 years above
0
1
2
12
15
Total
25
126
108
40
299
Note: SPM (Malaysian Certi cate of Education).

STPM (Malaysian Higher School Certi cate).
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 207
The majority of the respondents (78 percent) were in job positions that can
be classi ed as entry level jobs, 19 percent were supervisors, and 0.3 percent
held managerial positions. Department-wise, 36 percent of the respondents
were from the food and beverages department, followed by 24 percent from
front of ce positions, 20 percent were in housekeeping and the remaining
20 percent worked in other departments of the hotels. As for the length of
employment in the hotel industry, 49 percent of the respondents were working
for three to ve years, 30 percent for one to two years, 15 percent for ve to
ten years and 6 percent for ten years and above.
Table 2 shows the mean scores of the respondents’ perception for each
of the behaviours mentioned as indicative of sexual harassment according
to age. As indicated in the table, signi cant differences in perception by
age groups were revealed.
TABLE 2: Mean Rating for the Perception of Sexual Harassment Behaviour
by Age

Sexual Harassment
Age (Means)
F-
Behaviour
Value
Below
20-29
30-39
40-49
Total
20
years
years
years
years
Eyes me up and down
4.40
4.29
4.45
4.30
4.36
0.704
Makes sexual remarks
4.52
4.47
4.44
4.63
4.48
0.479
Tells sexual jokes
3.88
3.60
3.11+
3.73
3.46
5.836*
Kisses me on the cheek
4.80
4.71
4.73
4.78
4.73
0.219
Asked me to have sex
4.88
4.97
4.93
4.93
4.94
1.281
Touches me on arm/back
4.64
4.45
4.60
4.53
4.53
0.497
Asks me on dates after I
4.16
3.83
3.79
3.93
3.86
0.972
have refused
Touches me on chest/
4.88
4.96
4.91
4.93
4.93
0.986
thigh/buttocks
Treats me as sex object
4.72
4.89
4.82
4.80
4.84
1.455
Comments on my physi-
3.00
2.63
2.35+
2.90
2.60
2.969*
cal appearance/attractive-
ness
Note: Higher mean values denote agreement that the behaviours are indicative of sexual
harassment; lower mean values denote disagreement.
*signi cant at 0.05 level

+ cause of difference
All age groups agreed that telling sexual jokes is a form of sexual
harassment, but those who were in the age group of 30–39 years showed a
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208 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
statistically signi cant lower agreement, that is, the behaviour was probably
sexual harassment. This could be explained by Lameiras-Fernandez and
others, 2004 (cited in Ohse and Stockdale, 2008) who were of the view
that those in the age range of 23 to 42 years had the least sexist attitude.
Nonetheless, this is in line with the ndings of the study by Coats, Agrusa
and Tanner (2004)3 on Hong Kong Chinese, where the age group of 26 years
and older found the telling of sexual jokes as a form of sexual harassment.
Regarding comments on physical appearance/attractiveness, the
younger age group (below 20 years) was not sure if this behaviour
constituted sexual harassment while the other age groups disagreed. The
ndings also showed that there is a signi cantly lower disagreement from
the age group (30–39 years) concerning comments on physical appearance/
attractiveness as sexual harassment. Popovich and others (1986) reported
that generally women did not nd the behaviour “comments on my
physical appearance/attractiveness” as sexually harassing. Coats, Agrusa
and Tanner’s (2004) study also found that “comments on my physical
appearance/attractiveness” was not considered to be as sexual harassment.
For all the other behaviours in the table, all four age groups showed the
same level of agreement, that is, there was no signi cant difference by age
group on any of these behaviours.
Table 3 shows the scores of the respondents’ perception of each
behaviour as indicative of sexual harassment according to job position. A
signi cant difference in perception according to job position was revealed
in the behaviour descriptors “eyes me up and down”, “kisses me on the
cheek” and “touches me on the arm/back”.
For the behaviour descriptor “eyes me up and down”, all three groups
agreed that this behaviour was sexual harassment, but those who were in
the supervisory group showed a statistically signi cant lower agreement.
This could also be explained by the fact that it is part of a supervisor’s job
to check the physical appearance of the entry staff, that is, if they were
neatly dressed.
However, this contradicts Li and Lee-Wong’s (2005) study, if “eyes
me up and down” is equated to staring as stated by Li and Lee-Wong
(2005:702) “what is agreed upon is that coarse language, irting and
staring are generally not considered harassment”.
For the descriptor behaviours “kisses me on the cheek” and “touches
me on the arm/back” all three groups agreed that this was deemed as
sexual harassment. However, those in the managerial group showed a
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 209
statistically signi cant lower agreement, that is, that these two behaviours
were probably sexual harassment.
This difference may be explained by the fact that sexual harassment is
widely accepted in the hospitality industry (Poulston, 2008:239). Poulston
states that “amongst mature hospitality academics, there is a strong ethos
of ‘get over it’ and ‘it’s just part of the industry’, echoing comments
from hospitality employees. Additionally, at the managerial level one has
more work experience and maturity in handling sensitive issues (Ohse
and Stockdale, 2008), which may have altered the perception of sexual
harassment of managers.
For all the other descriptors cited in the table, all three job positions
showed the same level of agreement — that these behaviours should
be considered as sexual harassment, that is, there was no statistically
signi cant difference by job position on any of these behaviours.
TABLE 3: Mean Rating for the Perception of Sexual Harassment Behaviour
by Job Position

Sexual Harassment
Job Position (Means)
F-Value
Behaviour
Manage-
Supervi-
Entry
Total
rial
sory
Level
Eyes me up and down
4.22
4.12+
4.42
4.34
4.66*
Makes sexual remarks
4.22
4.44
4.50
4.48
0.52
Tells sexual jokes
3.44
3.47
3.45
3.46
0.63
Kisses me on the cheek
4.11+
4.68
4.77
4.73
13.91*
Asked me to have sex
4.89
4.95
4.94
4.93
0.11
Touches me on the arm/
3.56+
4.28
4.63
4.53
15.85*
back
Asks me on dates after I
3.56
3.67
3.91
3.86
2.4
have refused
Touches me on chest/
4.56
4.95
4.94
4.93
0.66
thigh/buttocks
Treats me as sex object
4.89
4.89
4.82
4.84
0.96
Comments on my physi-
3.11
2.42
2.61
2.60
0.81
cal appearance/attractive-
ness
Note: Higher mean values denote agreement that the items are considered as sexual har-
assment; lower mean values denote disagreement.
*signi cant at 0.05 level

+ cause of difference
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

210 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
Table 4 lists the mean scores of the respondents’ perception of each of
these behaviours as indicative of sexual harassment according to ethnicity.
As the table shows, signi cant differences in perception by different ethnic
groups were revealed on four of the behaviours.
TABLE 4: Mean Rating for the Perception of Sexual Harassment Behaviour
by Ethnicity

Sexual Harassment Behaviour
Ethnic (Means)
F-
Value
Malay
Chinese
Indian
Total
Eyes me up and down
4.44
3.95+
4.42
4.36
5.55*
Makes sexual remarks
4.53
4.29
4.48
4.48
1.77
Tells sexual jokes
3.35
3.39
3.72
3.46
2.77
Kisses me on the cheek
4.78
4.43+
4.80
4.73
5.46*
Asked me to have sex
4.95
4.87
4.95
4.94
1.90
Touches me on the arm/back
4.59
4.08+
4.67
4.53
8.32*
Asks me on dates after I have refused
3.88
3.60
3.95
3.85
1.82
Touches me on chest/thigh/buttocks
4.95
4.87
4.90
4.93
1.88
Treats me as sex object
4.83
4.83
4.85
4.83
0.06
Comments on my physical appear-
2.39+
2.47+
3.09
2.59
8.77*
ance/attractiveness
Note: Higher mean values denote agreement that the items are indicative of sexual harass-
ment; lower mean values denote disagreement.
*signi cant at 0.05 level

+ cause of difference
For the behaviours “eyes me up and down”, “kisses me on the cheek”
and “touches me on the arm/back” — although all three ethnic groups
agreed that these behaviours as sexual harassment, the Chinese respondents
showed a statistically signi cant lower agreement. This minor difference
in perception could be explained perhaps by the cultural differences of
the Malaysian Chinese. Fontaine and Richardson (2005) explain that
the Chinese are more ambitious, in uential, capable, and more success-
oriented as compared to the Malays and the Indians.
Even so, this is in line with the ndings of Coats, Agrusa and Tanner (2004)
on Hong Kong Chinese, where the behaviour “touches me on the arm/back”
was considered to be as sexual harassment. This is also supported by Li and
Lee-Wong’s (2005) study where the Singaporean Chinese view “touches
shoulder” as sexual harassment. Leong, 2000 (cited in Agrusa and others,
2002) reports that in Chinese culture, touching, patting, or hugging co-workers
is not part of social life and is clearly considered as sexual harassment.
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 211
For the behaviour “comments on my physical appearance /
attractiveness”, while the Indian ethnic group was not sure if this behaviour
constituted sexual harassment, the Malay and Chinese respondents showed
a statistically signi cant stronger disagreement as compared to the Indian
respondents. This corroborates with Agrusa and others, (2002) study in
which the Hong Kong Chinese respondents disagreed with the statement
that “comments on my physical appearance/attractiveness” constituted
sexual harassment. This could also be explained by the fact that such
comments could be viewed as compliments, and in the hospitality industry
a comment on physical appearance/attractiveness is seen as a compliment
and an approval of appearance.
On the other hand, this contradicts the study by Coats, Agrusa and Tanner
(2004), where the behaviour “comments on my physical appearance/
attractiveness” was considered to be as sexual harassment.
For all the other descriptor behaviours in the table, all the three ethnic
groups showed the same level of agreement, that is, that these behaviours
should be considered as sexual harassment. There was no statistically
signi cant difference by ethnic groups on any of these behaviours.
TABLE 5: Mean Rating for the Perception of Sexual Harassment Behaviour
by Marital Status

Sexual Harassment
Marital Status (Means)
F-
Behaviour
Value
Single
Mar-
Sepa-
Di-
Total
ried
rated
vorced
Eyes me up and down
4.29
4.48
4.50
4.14
4.36
1.49
Makes sexual remarks
4.44
4.58
4.38
4.32
4.48
1.00
Tells sexual jokes
3.46
3.46
3.88
3.32
3.46
0.43
Kisses me on the cheek
4.66
4.83
4.75
4.73
4.73
1.32
Asked me to have sex
4.94
4.95
5.00
4.86
4.94
0.88
Touches me on the arm/back
4.47
4.58
4.63
4.68
4.53
0.60
Asks me on dates after I have
3.81
3.88
4.38
3.82
3.86
0.79
refused
Touches me on chest/thigh/
4.93
4.93
4.88
4.91
4.93
0.13
buttocks
Treats me as sex object
4.83
4.88
4.88
4.64
4.84
1.22
Comments on my physical
2.70
2.51
2.63
2.41
2.60
0.63
appearance/attractiveness
Note: Higher mean values denote agreement that the items are indicative of sexual harass-
ment; lower mean values denote disagreement
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

212 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
The above table (Table 5) lists the mean scores of the respondents’
perception of each of these descriptor behaviours as sexual harassment
according to marital status. As shown in the table the results revealed no
signi cant differences among the different categories. The mean scores for
all the items were high indicating that all these behaviours were perceived
as sexual harassment by the different groups with the exception of the
behaviour “comments on my physical appearance /attractiveness” where
all four groups disagreed that this behaviour constituted sexual harassment.
Table 6 lists the mean scores of the respondents’ perception of each
of these items as sexual harassment according to the level of highest
education. The table shows signi cant differences in perception by level
of highest education groups in two of the behaviours. For the descriptor
“touches me on the arm/back”, although all four groups agreed that this
behaviour was perceived as sexual harassment, those holding a degree
showed a statistically signi cant lower agreement.
TABLE 6: Mean Rating for the Perception of Sexual Harassment Behaviour
by Level of Highest Education

Sexual Harassment
Level of Highest Education
F-
Behaviour
Value
SPM STPM/
Di-
De-
Masters Total
and
HSE
plo-
gree
and
below
ma
above
Eyes me up and down
4.44
4.50
4.21
4.05
4.44
4.37
2.01
Makes sexual remarks
4.52
4.46
4.44
4.35
4.52
4.49
0.36
Tells sexual jokes
3.59
3.43
3.15
3.45
3.59
3.46
2.43
Kisses me on the cheek
4.79
4.64
4.68
4.55
4.79
4.72
1.15
Asked me to have sex
4.94
4.93
4.94
4.95
4.94
4.93
0.03
Touches me on the
4.67
4.50
4.38
3.90+
4.67
4.52
6.21*
arm/back
Asks me on dates after
3.97
3.79
3.60
3.85
3.97
3.86
2.31
I have refused
Touches me on chest/
4.94
4.96
4.94
4.75
4.94
4.93
2.60
thigh/buttocks
Treats me as sex object
4.81
4.93
4.86
4.90
4.81
4.84
0.91
Comments on my
2.74
2.50
2.19+
2.90
2.74
2.59
3.52*
physical appearance/
attractiveness
Note: Higher mean values denote agreement that the items are indicative of sexual harass-
ment; lower mean values denote disagreement.
*signi cant at 0.05 level

+cause of difference
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 213
The signi cantly lower disagreement may be explained by a greater
tolerance /acceptance of sexual harassment for this descriptor. Nevertheless,
this is in agreement with Coats, Agrusa and Tanner (2004) where all
respondents with high school and college education or more agreed that
“touches me on the arm/back” should be regarded as sexual harassment.
For the behaviour “comments on my physical appearance/
attractiveness” all four groups disagreed that this behaviour was sexual
harassment. However, those in the diploma group showed a statistically
signi cant lower disagreement. This contradicts the ndings of Coats,
Agrusa and Tanner (2004) where the respondents with a high school
diploma considered this behaviour as amounting to sexual harassment. A
possible explanation for the statistically signi cant lower disagreement
could be because complimentary comments or remarks of sexual nature
are probably ego-enhancing (Gutek and others, 1980).
All groups showed the same level of agreement for all the other
behaviours in the table, that is, these behaviours should be considered
as sexual harassment. There was no statistically signi cant difference by
level of highest education groups on any of these behaviours.
Table 7 lists the mean scores of the respondents’ perception of each of
these items as sexual harassment according to years employed. The table
shows signi cant differences in perception by the years employed in four
of the behaviours.
For the behaviour “eyes me up and down” and “touches me on the arm/
back”, while all four groups agreed that this behaviour was indicative
of sexual harassment, those with only one to two years of employment
showed a statistically signi cant lower agreement. This can be explained
by the ndings of a study by Lameiras-Fernandez, 2004 (cited in Oshe
and Stockdale, 2008) that the lack of work experience may leave workers
in the hotel industry not familiar with the subtleties of ambivalent sexism.
This is also in agreement with the nding of Coats, Agrusa and Tanner
(2004) where the respondents with less than one year in the hotel industry
found the behaviour “touches me on arm/back” as sexual harassment.
For the behaviour “tells ssexual jokes”, while all four groups agreed that
this behaviour constituted sexual harassment, those with 10 years and more
of employment showed a statistically signi cant higher agreement. People
with more work experience may however show a higher sensitivity to sexism
and gender issues in the workplace (see Lameiras-Fernandez, 2004 cited in
Oshe and Stockdale, 2008, where those over 42 had the most sexist attitude).
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

214 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
TABLE 7: Mean Rating for Perception of Sexual Harassment Behaviour by
Years Employed

Items
Years Employed
F-
Value
1-2
3-5
5-10
10 and
Total
above
Eyes me up and down
4.16+
4.54
4.17
4.33
4.36
3.89*
Makes sexual remarks
4.41
4.59
4.30
4.47
4.48
1.85
Tells sexual jokes
3.59
3.38
3.20
4.33+
3.46
4.26*
Kisses me on the cheek
4.60
4.82
4.70
4.80
4.73
1.98
Asked me to have sex
4.93
4.93
5.00
4.87
4.94
1.36
Touches me on the arm/
4.29+
4.66
4.59
4.60
4.53
3.56*
back
Asks me on dates after I
3.91
3.81
3.76
4.27
3.86
1.09
have refused
Touches me on chest/
4.94
4.95
4.87
4.87
4.93
1.02
thigh/buttocks
Treats me as sex object
4.83
4.84
4.85
4.80
4.84
0.06
Comments on my physi-
2.79
2.40
2.54
3.60+
2.60
4.95*
cal appearance/attractive-
ness
Note: Higher mean values denote agreement that the items are indicative of sexual harass-
men;, lower mean values denote disagreement.
*signi cant at 0.05 level

+cause of difference
This contradicts the ndings of Coats, Agrusa and Tanner (2004), where
the respondents with more than ve years of experience disagreed that to
“tell sexual jokes” constituted as sexual harassment.
For the behaviour “comments on my physical appearance/attractiveness”,
those with 10 years and more agreed that this behaviour probably
constituted sexual harassment, whereas the other groups disagreed that
this behaviour was sexual harassment. This again contradicted the ndings
of Coats, Agrusa and Tanner (2004) where the respondents with more
than ve years of experience disagreed that “comments on my physical
appearance/attractiveness” was sexual harassment.
For all the other behaviours in the table, all groups showed the same
level of agreement that these behaviours should be considered as sexual
harassment. There was no statistically signi cant difference by years
employed on any of these behaviours.
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 215
TABLE 8: Mean Rating for Perception of Sexual Harassment Behaviour by
Department

Items
Department
F-
Value
House
Food
Front
Other
Total
keep-
and
f ce
depart-
ing
Bever-
ments
ages
Eyes me up and down
4.34
4.52+
4.42
4.01
4.36
3.50
Makes sexual remarks
4.26
4.47
4.58
4.40
4.51
0.61
Tells sexual jokes
4.09+
3.48
3.00
3.31
3.46
13.61
Kisses me on the cheek
4.77
4.89+
4.58
4.57
4.73
2.06
Asked me to have sex
4.91
4.92
4.97
4.93
4.93
0.07
Touches me on the arm/
4.49
4.75
4.59
4.11+
4.53
5.37
back
Asks me on dates after I
4.13
3.95
3.81
3.45+
3.85
5.13
have refused
Touches me on chest/
4.87
4.85
4.97
4.96
4.85
0.19
thigh/buttocks
Treats me as sex object
4.70
4.82
4.87
4.84
4.88
0.06
Comments on my physical
3.31+
2.58
2.27
2.27
2.59
14.82
appearance/attractiveness
Note: Higher mean values denote agreement that the items are indicative of sexual harass-
ment; lower mean values denote disagreement.
*signi cant at 0.05 level

+cause of difference
The above table (Table 8) lists the mean scores of the respondents’
perception of each of these items as sexual harassment by different
departments. As the table shows, signi cant differences in perception by
the years employed group were revealed on six of the descriptors.
For the behaviour “tell sexual jokes”, while all four groups agreed that
this behaviour was seen as sexual harassment, those in the house-keeping
department showed a statistically signi cant higher agreement. For the
behaviour “comments on my physical appearance/attractiveness”, those
in the house-keeping department agreed that this behaviour probably
constituted sexual harassment, whereas the other groups disagreed. This
difference could be explained by the fact that housekeeping employees
come in frequent contact with customers in their line of work and it is
also said that sexual jokes are used to kill time in the hospitality industry
(Agrusa and others, 2002).
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

216 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
For the behaviour “eyes me up and down” and “kisses me on the cheek”,
while all four groups agreed that this behaviour was sexual harassment,
those in the Food and Beverages department showed a statistically
signi cant higher agreement. Those working in this department are the
ones more likely to be exposed to sexual harassment, for they have more
customer contact (Poulston, 2008), and therefore, may be more sensitive
to a social-sexual behaviour.
For the item “asks me on dates after I have refused” and “touches
me on the arm/back”, those working in the other departments showed
a signi cant lower agreement that this behaviour constituted sexual
harassment, whereas the House-keeping, Food and Beverages and Front
Of ce department agreed that this behaviour was sexual harassment. The
difference in perception could probably be explained by the fact that such
behaviours are more accepted in the hospitality industry than in any other
industry and perhaps because of the characteristics of the female employees
themselves. As explained by Giuffre and Williams (1994) (cited in Welsh
and others, 2006) some workers draw “boundary lines” around what they
consider sexually harassing behaviours and what are pleasurable and/or
tolerable.
For all the other behaviours in the table, all groups showed the same
level of agreement that these behaviours should be considered as sexual
harassment. There was no statistically signi cant difference by department
in any of these behaviours.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
As stated by Foulis and McCabe (1997) and McCabe and Hardman (2005)
when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment, people with different
demographic and/or social backgrounds have different perceptions
regarding what constitutes sexual harassment. Demographic characteristics
that have been most frequently cited in previous studies have been gender,
age, race, marital status, occupation, years employed and the position of
the harasser. Among these, gender difference has been found to be the
most consistent variable in sexual harassment literature (Fitzgerald and
others, 1988 cited in Lin, 2006).
The results of this study revealed that the perception of sexual harassment
among the female respondents working in the hotel industry did not vary as a
function of age, race, marital status, educational level, occupational position,
department and years employed. None of the demographic variables affected
the female employees’ perception of sexual harassment. The result of this
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 217
study was consistent with the ndings of previous studies by Powel and
others, 1981 (cited in Terpstra and Baker, 1987); Powel (1983); Baker and
others, (1990); Fitzgerald and Ormerod (1991); Foulis and McCabe (1997);
Cho (2002); Agrusa and others, (2002); Coats, Agrusa and Tanner (2004)
and Li and Lee-Wong (2005). As such, the perception of Malaysian female
employees did not differ from that of women in other countries.
The ndings of this study also show that the female employees’
perception of sexual harassment transcends ethnicity ( Malay, Chinese
and India) despite the fact that most studies in the country tend to focus on
ethnicity. However, this study disagrees with Li and Lee-Wong’s (2005)
study on whether certain cues relating to sexual harassment are judged
equivalently across ethnic groups. The study determines whether cultural
differences (beliefs and values) in uence and impact interpretation of
sexual harassment. The ndings indicated that cultural differences had a
signi cant effect on ethnic groups, with the highest ratings being obtained
from the Malays.
Although demographic variables did not show any perceptual
difference on sexual harassment among female employees, the sexual
harassment behaviour itself has caused a perceptual difference. Generally,
the respondent appears to recognise the physical, psychological, visual
and non-verbal/gestural harassment but not verbal harassment, that is,
comments and jokes.
In general, the female employees in the hotel industry did not consider
the behaviours “comments on my physical appearance/attractiveness” and
“tells sexual jokes” as sexual harassment, even though these behaviours
are de ned as sexual harassment by the Malaysian Code of Practice. This
is also supported in Lin’s (2006) review of the Taiwanese hospitality
industry which found that the informal nature of this industry often causes
blurring of the line between work and social interaction.
Telling dirty jokes, making sexually discriminating remarks and
commenting on an individual’s gure or sexual features might be a
common practice among the working environment in the hospitality
industry (Lin, 2006). Consequently, the behaviours “comments on my
physical appearance/attractiveness” and “tells sexual jokes” presents itself
in an ambiguous form; allowing a greater difference in perception.
As such, even when it is recognised as harassment, female victims
reported feeling attered and considered being a target of harassment as
recognition of their charisma (Lin, 2006).
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

218 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
Another plausible explanation for the differing perception is the
occupational norms that are unique to the hotel industry itself — working
long hours with equally long breaks between shifts (breakfast, lunch,
dinner shifts) and close interactions between workers. In such a setting,
jokes with explicit sexual content are used as a means to kill time and
entertain (Agrusa and others, 2002). A study of personnel directors
working in the hospitality industry by Gilbert and others (1998) found
that 29% considered sexual jokes and teasing a minor issue. This would
explain why certain groups of female employees did not perceive these
two behaviours as constituting sexual harassment.
A recent study by Poulston (2008:239) found that “sexual harassment
is widely accepted by hospitality workers and to some extent, welcomed
and enjoyed. As some employees enjoy and tolerate what others consider
harassment, it seems that harassment occurs more because those attracted
to the hospitality industry are more tolerant of anti-social behaviour”. There
is also the strong in uence of western ideals and the demands of a modern
outlook to the hospitality industry; the traditional socio-cultural factors come
into con ict with these more modern and western ideals (Cho, 2002). Thus,
there is a pressing need to educate female employees of the hotel industry on
the differences between sexual harassment and appropriate social behaviour.
The nding of this study is also consistent with the ndings of a study
conducted by Kamal and Asnarulkhadi (2011) that sexually explicit
behaviour like touching is more highly rated as sexual harassment than
comments, looks or gestures which until today are viewed as normal
and acceptable occurrences. This is further supported by a report made
by Cruez (2009) that most Malaysians think sexual harassment is only
concerned with the physical and does not include verbal comments and
sounds, gestures or “visual” such as obscene pictures.
Ng and Jamilah’s (2002) study highlighted the fact that despite the
existence of sexual harassment policies in the companies, employees had
problems de ning what constituted sexual harassment; most respondents
were more familiar with the physical form of sexual harassment.
The different perception about what constitutes unwanted and
unwelcome sexual conduct has made it dif cult to de ne sexual
harassment. This opens up avenues for parties in con ict to take advantage
of when dealing with the issue (Roziah and others, 2006). It is important
for managers to take all necessary steps to ensure that female employees
are educated on what constitutes sexual harassment.
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

Perception of Sexual Harassment among Female Hotel Employees in Malaysia 219
This study also shows that the organisational climate of the hotel
industry plays an important role in causing perceptual difference/s in
sexual harassment among its female employees.
Another study by Willness and others (2007) on the meta-analysis of
organisational climate suggests that in general the sexual harassment climate
has been the best single predictor of sexual harassment in organisations
and this speaks of the signi cant potential for organisations to actually
prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment. Halbesleben’s (2009) study
also pointed out that the climate and culture of an organisation has an
impact on an employees’ willingness to provide accurate behavioural cues
concerning how they actually feel about sexual harassment.
As stated by Cho (2002:27):
Sociocultural factors compounded with occupational norms can expedite and
overlook activities which might constitute sexual harassment. Legal procedures
alone will not totally eliminate sexual harassment because sexual harassment is
rooted in discrimination which exists in traditional sociocultural norms.
It is important for managers to realise the seriousness of a sexual
harassment-free work environment and understand how employees feel
about this issue (Argusa and others, 2002). In order to provide more
protection for the employees, employers should organise promotional
campaigns and educate the employees on issues related to sexual
harassment (Lin, 2006).
Sexual harassment could also be reduced by using a more stringent
code of ethics, improving training and demonstrating management’s
intolerance of harassment to both staff and customers (Poulston, 2008).
In Cho’s (2002) study, the respondents indicated that the most effective
way to prevent sexual harassment would be through victimn counselling,
reinforcement of punishment, institutional prohibition, and education to
reinforce internal inhibitors.
Raising awareness on sexual harassment issues is crucial. Kennedy and
Gorzalka’s (2002) study on ‘Asian and Non-Asian Attitudes Toward Rape,
Sexual Harassment, and Sexuality’ revealed that Asian students were
signi cantly more conservative in attitudes towards sexual behaviour.
The Asian category included East or South East Asian countries (China,
Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore). Approximately 92
percent of the Asian group identi ed themselves as ethnic Chinese. This
reinforces the importance of educating employees on what constitutes
sexual harassment and their rights. It is important to determine the level of
awareness of sexual harassment among Malaysian employees in order to
IJSW, 73(2), 195–224, April 2012

220 Ponmalar N. Alagappar, Maya Khemlani David and Ramesh Rao
give them the ability to effectively deal with the issue. The ndings will
help in identifying the right education tools.
Given, that the place of employment has become “home” for more than
half of one’s lifetime in terms of hours spent in total, it is important to
create a conducive working environment for female employees. Hence, any
form of unwelcome behaviour that threatens the safety or well being of the
individual should be addressed promptly to avoid dire consequences that
will inevitably impact not only the occupational health and productivity of
the individual but also the morale of the employees and the organisational
performance (Lekha and others, 2003).
Despite the limitations of the study, the ndings could serve as a starting
point for future research of the hospitality industry in Malaysia. Future
research could examine a larger, more diverse employee population, and
this will help in the generalisation of the perceptual difference/s of sexual
harassment in the hospitality industry.
NOTES
1. Retrieved December 10, 2006, from http://biz.thestar.com.my/news/story.
asp? le=/2006/7/6/business/14743745&sec=business
2.
Retrieved on May 8, 2010, from http://www.wccpenang.org/sexual-harassment/the-
copthorne-case/
3.
Coats, Agrusa and Tanner’s (2004) study included both female 53.6% and male
46.4%
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