Laws on sexual harassment at workplace in India

July 23, 2018
By Advocate Chikirsha Mohanty



Sexual Harassment at Workplace: Myths and Verity

Sexual harassment is a type of prejudice based on sex primly attacking the modesty, dignity, obeisance of an individual. When someone is sexually harassed at the workplace it can affect the persona in many ways; it undermines the potential of a person to work and perform well at the workplace. Employers who do not take steps for prevention of sexual harassment at workplace can suffer a major loss in the productivity of the organization and suffer legal expenses if they are unable to fulfill the regulations prescribed under Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

We have divided this article into various sections in order to provide ease of understanding to the reader about various complexities embargoed under the Sexual Harassment Act. The article is divided under following categories-:

A. Sexual Harassment
B. Compliance under the Sexual Harassment Act

 

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment results in the violations of fundamental rights of women of equality under section 14 and 15 of the constitution of India and right to life and live with dignity under article 21 of the constitution of India and right to practice any profession, trade, business which includes a right to have a safe working environment.

Sexual harassment includes any unwelcome behavior or act of conduct of sexual in nature.
 

Types of Sexual Harassment at Workplace

(i) Quid Pro Que Sexual Harassment (This for That)

When a designated senior puts a condition on a female employee to perform a certain act which is unwished assuring her for a favor in return. This concept is basically called “This for that”.

(ii) Hostile environment: Is created when an employee constantly and repeatedly does certain acts of sexual nature. 

  • Sexual pranks, or repeated sexual teasing, jokes, in person or via e-mail; 

  • A demand or request for sexual favor; 

  • Asking for Verbal or Non Verbal advances; 

  • Touching or grabbing; etc. 

Compliance Under Sexual Harassment Act

There are various compliance requirements which need to be adhered to by an organization. Without going into the details, the bullet requirements to be complied under the Sexual Harassment Act is as follows-:

(i) Drafting and implementation of Sexual Harassment Policy-: The organization needs to carefully draft a sexual harassment policy which should cover the basic points such as-:

  • ICC Composition: names, designation and contact details of the ICC members.

  • What constitutes as a sexual harassment act like verbal, physical, quid pro quo etc.

The policy should include the procedure for Resolution, Settlement, Prosecution, inquiry and trial procedure to deal with  

(ii) Amendment to the Employment agreements-: What organization fails to do is to amend their employment agreements to be in tune with the SH policy. This is also an important aspect as the employee signs the obligations under the employment agreement at the time of joining. 

(iii) Formation of Internal Complaints Committee (“ICC”)-: This is one of the prime duties for an employer to adhere to the following conditions. The composition of the ICC should constitute of a female “Presiding Officer” at prominent designation, (ii) two members who have legal knowledge and have had experience in social work, (iii) one person who is familiar with the sexual harassment issues or a person from NGO, (iv) it is required that more than 50% of the members are females in the committee.  

(iv) Sensitization of the ICC and Employees-: This is one of the key factors to be adhered to by the organization for the prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace.
Sensitizing the employees (both males and females) about sexual harassment, that constitutes sexual harassment and repercussion thereof.
Orientation programmers or seminars for the member of the internal committee
Involve females in the workshops to make the workshop more effective and include case studies for better understanding.
Establish a better security system in the office. For eg, cameras in the cabins and corridors. 

(vi) Filling of Annual Report by ICC -: The organizations are required to file reports providing various information such as-: The ICC shall prepare annual report under section 21: (i) number of sexual harassment complaints received in a year; (ii) number of complaints disposed of in a year; (iii) number of cases pending for more than 90 days; (iv) number of awareness programs or workshops against sexual harassment conducted in a year; (v) nature of action taken by the employer or district officer; and (vi) where no such report is required to be prepared, intimate such number of cases, if any, to the District Officer. (As per section 22 of Sexual Harassment Act) 
 

Conclusion

An increasing trend of complaints of sexual harassment at workplaces shows the increasing awareness. The main objective of Act is to ensure safe and secure environment to every woman, irrespective of her age, employment status, freedom from all forms of sexual harassment by making the employer responsible for the same. Cases like TERI, Tehalka have set an example that how such eminent organizations face loss of reputation if not complying with Sexual Harassment Act. The punishment prescribed for non-compliance under the Sexual Harassment Act is fine upto Rs. 1,00,000/- or cancellation of license to carry out the business/service by the organization, which might ultimately lead to defamation; attacking the name and goodwill of the organization. As a learned person has quoted that “it takes years to build reputation, but a moment to lose it” 



 

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