Sexual harassment at workplace: All you need to know

The law to make work place sensitive toward gender is in place but it still has a long way to go

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | January 16, 2015 | New Delhi


#sexual harassment at workplace   #supreme court   #sexual harassment law  

Even more than a year after the law on prevention of sexual harassment of women at workplace was enacted, most of the organisations are still struggling with the challenges of dealing with harassment and gender sensitisation.

To create a sense of understanding on the subject and to make the office environment more gender sensitive, eminent lawyer DP Singh and his team from Legal Audit Inc, a law firm which advises companies on structuring harassment policy, explained the law that aim to create better and safer workplaces for women. The law firm has investigated cases linked to sexual advances at work place.

Earlier there were the Vishaka guidelines, for use in cases of sexual harassment, formed by the supreme court. These guidelines were later superseded in 2013 by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) Act.

Singh, who has conducted a series of gender sensitisation workshops, touch upon a variety of issues including creating awareness about employees' rights to protect them from sexual harassment and creating a conducive environment for women. He said that even today most of the Indian businesses are unable to comply with the new law.

He explained the law and what all constitutes harassment. Here are a few things you need to know:

What is sexual harassment at the workplace?

It refers to verbal or physical activity which may or may not be sexual, performed in workplace by a boss, manager, employee, client or customer of a working unit, that is unwelcomed by the person receiving it and has caused the person to feel violated, insulted, or made it an unbearable hostile environment.

What is the definition of law?

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) Act, 2013. The Section 2 (n) says sexual harassment “includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication) namely:- physical contact and advances; or a demand or request favours; or making sexually coloured remarks; or showing pornography; or any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

What is the Section 3 of the Act?

“No woman shall be subjected to sexual harassment at any work place – implied or explicit promises of preferential treatment in her employment; implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in her employment; implied or explicit threat about her present of future employment status; interference with her work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her or humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety.”

What are the forms of sexual harassment?

It can be verbal, physical, visual and psychological harassment.

 What are the duties of Employer?
 

  • It is the duty of employer to provide a safe working environment and deter acts of sexual nature.
     
  • The law also mandates all the organisations to form internal complaints committee (ICC), consisting of at least four members under the chairmanship of a senior woman employee and must also include two members from amongst the employees.
  • To ensure prevention of harassment as an act by third party or an outsider.
     
  • Employers should organise orientation programmes and workshops to sensitise employees and to provide assistance to the complainant if she choose to file a police complaint.
  • Annual reports and records must be maintained.
  • If ICC finds the said accused guilty it provide assistance to the woman if she so choose to file a complaint in relation to the offender under IPC (45 of 1860) or any other law for the time being in force.
  • Monitor the timely submission of reports by the internal committee.


What are the penalties?
 

  • An employer found in violating the act during an inspection may be liable for a monetary penalty of up to Rs 50,000 and repeated offenses could result in the fine being doubled, de-registration or revocation of business licenses.
  • An employee found to be guilty of sexual harassment can be punished as per the service rules of the company which can be tendering of apology, warning, withholding of promotion or increment, termination of services.
  • If the offence is made out under the IPC then FIR has to be registered with the police.


 What are the mechanism for redressal and enquiry process?
 

  • There should be committee where employees can directly or indirectly submit a complaint of alleged incident to any member in writing with his/her signature within 10 days of occurrence of the incident.
  • The committee must keep the contents confidential and should hold a meeting within 5 days of the receipt of the complaint.
  • It shall immediately proceed with the enquiry and prepare and hand over the ‘statement of allegation’ to the accused person and a copy should be given to the complainant.
  • The accused person may be called for deposition before the committee and an opportunity will be given for an explanation.
  • The Complainant and/or Accused can also provide names of witness(es) whom they propose to call.


 What is the policy compliance?

Every company should have a policy which broadly covers the following:
 

  • The company should broadly define the investigation process of sexual harassment at work place.
  • Its policy should have a well defined methodology for handling of complainants.
  • The employees should be made well aware of the company’s policy.
  •  It should be such that the complainant is protected from further harassment, once the complaint is made.
  • It should be well equipped with the consequences defined in case of falsely accusing someone.
  •  It must comply within the organisation in spirits and not just in letters.

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