Sexual harassment at workplace is an extremely distressing issue that degrades the quality of an organisation, makes it unsafe, reduces an employee’s will to work and outrightly disrespects the fundametal rights of the workmen. In order to curb and prevent the issue of sexual harassment at workplace, the Government enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
The 2013 Act defines sexual harassment as one or more unwelcome acts or behavious (either directly or indirectly) such as:
Physical contact and advances; or
A demand or request for sexual favors; or
Making sexually colored remarks; or
Showing pornography; or
Any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
What is the POSH Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)?
An employer is required to comply with certain statutory requirements. One such requirement according to the Act is that every organisation employing more than 10 people has to formulate an Internal Complaints Committee. This ICC, as the name suggests, is a body formed in order to receive complaints on sexual harassment at the workplace from an aggrieved woman/victim. It inquires into the complaints and thereafter makes recommendations to the employer on the actions to be taken, based on the inquiries of such complaints made.
ICC has to be constituted at every workplace a particular organisation.
Role of the ICC
The ICC plays an extremely important role when sexual harassment cases arise at workplaces. This is why the POSH Act demands the ICC to be constituted at each and every organisation with more than 10 employees. It provides a redressal system for the victims of sexual harassment. Once a complaint regarding sexual harassment is made to the ICC, it inquires in detail and thereafter decides whether the complainant or the person claiming to be a victim, has actually been harassed. After its findings, it gives out its verdict and decides whether punishment is to be given to the accused and if yes, the severity of it.
Constitution of the ICC
ICC is required to be constituted in the manner as provided in the POSH Act, 2013. ICC shall consist of:
Presiding Officer: The presiding officer of the ICC has to be a woman. This woman should be employed at a senior level at the workplace from amongst the employees.
Minimum two women employees: The ICC should consist of at least two members from amongst the employees, preferably committed to the cause of women, or who have legal knowledge or experience in social work.
External member: An external member who is not an employee of the organisation. This individual should be from amongst NGOs or associations committed to the cause of women, or any other person who is familiar with issues relating to sexual harassment.
Who can approach the ICC?
An ‘aggrieved woman’ who suffers sexual harassment at the workplace can approach the ICC. This aggrieved woman can be an employee or even someone visiting the workplace. The law also allows another individual (legal heir or a prescribed person) to complain on behalf of the victim if she is unable to do so due to some physical or mental incapacity, or death.
How to make a Complaint to the ICC?
A complaint to the ICC should be made within a period of three months from the date of the incident. However, the time-period can be extended in case the ICC is satisfied that the circumstances of the complainant were such that the complaint could not have been made within that period of time.
The complaint should be made in writing, and for this, the complainant can take assistance from the ICC. The contents of the applications/complaints including the identity, address of the aggrieved woman, respondent and witnesses are hidden/protected from the public view (through the RTI Act). Even the information related to the proceedings of the ICC are protected from the public purview.
How does the ICC proceed with the sexual harassment complaint?
Once the complaint is received by the ICC, it gives an option to the complainant/victim to either undertake conciliation for resolving of the complaint or proceed with the investigation by the ICC. The ICC is required to give the victim in question, the entire details or pros and cons of the investigation versus conciliation and he/she is required to make a choice.
Conciliation: In case the complainant chooses the process of conciliation, he/she would be able to discuss and thereby resolve the issue with the accused. The process is facilitated in the presence of the ICC. This ensures that the procedure is neutral and safe for both parties. If the process of conciliation is a success, the decision/terms are recorded for future action. After this, no inquiry is initiated. However, if the conciliation fails, the inquiry is taken up by ICC.
Inquiry: The ICC conducts the investigation in an unbiased manner, after the evidence is acquired by both parties. The investigation by ICC should be completed within 90 working days. During the investigation, both parties are given an equal opportunity of being heard. Once the inquiry is completed by the ICC, a formal report is to be sent to the employer. The report shall consist of recommendations and the action to be taken as well. The employer has to take action against the accused (if found guilty by the ICC) on an immediate basis and in any case, within three months.
The POSH laws allow some relief to the aggrieved woman even during the pendency of inquiry. This is done in order to make the workplace less uncomfortable. The following actions as relief can be allowed to the complainant by the ICC:
Transfer: The aggrieved woman or the accused/respondent can be transferred to any other workplace, or
Leave: The aggrieved woman can be granted leave upto a period of 3 months, which would be in addition to the leave she is otherwise entitled to.
Punishments to the accused if the allegations are proved?
If the accused is found to have indulged in the act of sexual harassment, he can be given the following punishments:
Disciplinary Actions: Punishments like written apology, warning, reprimand, censure, not allowing promotions/increments, etc. are given. Stricter punishments such as termination of employment can also be awarded to the offender. He can also be asked to undergo counselling and carry out community services.
Compensation: The compensation that the aggrieved woman would be entitled to receive, could be paid out of the wages of the respondent.
Punishment prescribed under the service rules of the organization.
Local Complaints Committee (LCC)
Every district is supposed to have a Local Complaints Committee, which is to be constituted by District Magistrate/Additional District Magistrate/ Collector/ Deputy Collector (as District Officer) as the State Government notifies.
The LCC enables the women from the unorganised sector or the small establishments to make complaints of sexual harassment. It also receives complaints from those other organisations where the Internal Complaints Committees have not been established due to these having less than 10 employees. Moreover, if the complaint is against the employer (in organisations having more than 10 employees as well), the aggrieved woman is required to make a complaint to the LCC.