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Know Your Rights – Sexual Harassment at Workplace

Know Your Rights – Sexual Harassment at Workplace

X is working as an Executive. She regularly receives written feedback on her work with some double meaning scribbles from her Manager. On pointing this out to him, he simply passes them off as just a good joke and of little consequence. This is going for many months. X feels stressed and confused. She is not sure about the way out.

This could be a typical scenario that women employees encounter at workplace. Sixteen years after the Supreme Court issued the guidelines for employers to prevent and redress sexual harassment the GOI enforced Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 on 9th December 2013. Purpose of the Act is to provide protection to women against sexual harassment at workplace. This includes prevention and resolution of sexual harassment complaints.

What you should know about the Act?

    1. The Act recognises that sexual harassment is violation of the fundamental rights of working women guaranteed to them by the Indian Constitution. It asserts that every woman coming in contact with a workplace irrespective of her age, employment status, organised and unorganised sector has right to work with dignity.
    2. Definition of “sexual harassment” in the Act is focused on impact of the unwanted behaviour on the woman and not on the intention of the doer.
    3. It is inclusive in nature which means that it will include various direct and suggestive forms of physical, verbal and nonverbal sexual harassment.
    4. Along with acts of sexual harassment, difficult work environment causing damage and humiliation to a woman will be considered as sexual harassment. Thus the woman is shielded from work related backlash and re-victimisation.
    5. Definition of workplace in the Act moves beyond traditional understanding of geographical location to cover any place visited by the woman during the course of employment including the transportation provided by the employer.

What happens after a sexual harassment complaint?

    1. For receiving complaints from women employees, an Internal Committee (IC) is to be formed by the employer in organisations employing ten or more than ten employees.
    2. At least half members of the IC should be women with a senior woman employee as presiding officer, two members from amongst the employees and an external member who is an expert on the issue.
    3. A woman can complain to Internal Committee (IC) within 3 months of the last incident of sexual harassment. The IC will carry out inquiry in the complaint in a confidential manner. If the woman was unable to complain within 3 months due to some circumstances, the IC can extend the time limit up to 3 months.
    4. The IC has powers similar to a civil court and can recommend transfer, additional leave, prohibiting the man from doing performance appraisal of the complainant while the inquiry is pending. Recommendations such as penalty and compensation to be paid by respondent are to be done by the IC after completion of inquiry within 90 days.

What is the responsibility of the employer?

    1. The Act places a responsibility on every employer to create an environment which is free from sexual harassment. This includes compulsory awareness generation among employees, capacity building of the IC, creation plus dissemination of an anti sexual harassment policy, providing reasonable assistance to the complainant if she wishes to register police complaint.
    2. In case of non compliance to the Act there is a provision for penalty to be imposed on the employers. An employer will be liable to a fine of Rs 50,000 in case of violation of their duties under the Act and in case of subsequent violations the amount of fine will be double.
    3. Repeated violation of the Act could result in penalty in the form of cancellation of license, withdrawal or non-withdrawal of the registration required for carrying out business.

It is important that instances of sexual harassment are nipped in the bud. If there a discomforting behaviour from a colleague, it is crucial to convey your displeasure. If the behaviour repeats or continues it is important to report the same in writing to the IC or HR.

Garnering evidence such as date, time, details of each incident, saved messages, and recorded conversations can prove to be helpful. Informing friends at work or colleagues about the problem will be helpful get as they are witnesses to your distress.

If the IC or HR has not initiated action in time you can choose to reach out to external agencies such as police, State or National Commission for Women or women’s organisations.

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