Don’t Keep Silence – Say no to Sexual Harassment at Workplace

Kiran was working as an Account executive in a Multinational Company based in Gurgaon. She was reporting Satish, Finance manager of the Company. One day Satish called her for a team meeting. Meeting went for a couple of hours and while everyone left, he asked her to stay back to discuss something important. Kiran stayed back and after some discussions, Satish proposed her to go for a dinner or a movie together and after which he will drop her home. Kiran smilingly refused and said that she goes through a carpool and left the room.

After this incident, Satish often tried to invite her to lunch, dinner or movies, though never told anything indecent or passed any lewd remarks. One day, Satish told her if she turned down her request again her ratings will go down.  Stumped she thought of countering Satish or Complaining HR manager but then she stopped at the thought of rumors in the office about her. Later in the night, she received an SMS from Satish which was not in good taste.

Perplexed by the situation, she decided to meet her friend Neeta and take her advice on the matter. She did not want to discuss with her parents first as they may start worrying about her safety at the workplace.

Over the meeting, she briefed Neeta about the incident and previous happenings. Neeta was a legal counsel at an MNC. The first thing she asked her was ” Don’t you have an Anti – Sexual Harassment policy at your Workplace!

Neeta explained her about the provisions of the law related to Sexual harassment of Women at the workplace which was passed in 2013 on the lines of Hon’ble Supreme Court landmark judgment in Vishaka vs. the State of Rajasthan.  She also explained her about the facility of online complaint of Sexual harassment at She-Box initiated by Ministry of Child and Women Welfare.

This gave Kiran confidence and next day she filed an online complaint in She-Box and also intimated her HR manager about the incident and raised concern on no complaint Mechanism for such Incidents and lack of compliance in Company.

How many of you can relate to these types of Incident? I believe there are many females like Kiran out there who bear the brunt of sexual harassment in the day to day work life and due to ignorance of the law, they hesitate to do anything about this. Sexual harassment continues to be prevalent in workplaces almost everywhere and tends to be widely under-reported. This is very ironical to see that even after having a full-fledged law on this crucial subject most of us are blind or oblivious to his newly framed law. A majority of female employees continue to cope with issues related to Sexual harassment due to fear of professional oppression or fear of retaliation by the management after reporting or widespread rumors. Many of time they let it go thinking this as a one-off incident and will not recur again

The major reason this poor awareness is no policy or lack of training about policy by the organizations. Adequate monitoring and redressal of sexual harassment in organizations can play a vital role in creating an empowering environment for women employees which is needed for growth of the Indian economy.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 read with The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Rules, 2013 are the relevant legislation which regulates the subject and provide much needed relief to women in cases of Sexual Harassment.

Through this article I am throwing some light on some important enabling provisions which all female employees shall know:

The most important term to understand in the act is what constitutes an Act of Sexual Harassment and this has been defined very widely under this law

*”Sexual Harassment” includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behavior (whether directly or by implication) namely:

  • 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 nonverbal conduct of sexual nature.

The following circumstances, among other circumstances, if it occurs or is present in relation to or connected with any act or behavior of Sexual Harassment may amount to Sexual Harassment:

  • An implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in employment; or
  • Implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in employment; or
  • Implied or explicit threat about the present or future employment, status; or
  • Interference with work or creating intimidating or offensive or hostile working environment; or
  • Humiliating treatment likely to affect health or safety.

* The above are excerpts from The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013

This includes any unwelcome verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct such as obnoxious comments or utterances, remarks or jokes, letters, phone calls, SMS or emails, gestures, showing pornography, stalking, making sounds or displaying anything of a sexual nature or with sexual overtures. It also includes any unwelcome demand or request for sexual favors in return for or with a promise of work-related favors such as performance appraisals, promotions, transfers, salary increases and employment or any other form of reward or recognition.

You must also remember that workplace sexual harassment is not limited to the four corners of the office a woman is working in.  The scope is very wide and any ‘unwelcome sexually tainted act/ behavior meted out to a woman at any place visited by her on account of, or during the course of her employment is equally covered. So, it covers official transport used for commuting to office or visit to a client place for official work as well.

As per the Anti- Sexual Harassment Law, every employer employing at least 10 employees is mandated to set up an Internal Compliant Committee at each office or branch to investigate and redress sexual harassment grievances.

All employers are required to providing training to their employees on the Company’s Policy on Sexual Harassment and widely disseminate the policy amongst all employees.

The law contains provisions related to the inquiry of the complaint and rights of female employees during the inquiry period which should be covered in detail in Organizational Policy.

The Internal Complaint Committee Chairperson shall be Senior Level Female employee. Further Minimum two members shall be having legal knowledge or Social work or committed to the cause of women

The law imposes a penalty of up to Rs. 50,000 on employers who do not implement the provisions of the Anti-Harassment Law including failure to constitute an Internal Complaint Committee.

After the Law been passed, Companies are gradually putting in place monitoring and redressal mechanisms to comply with the law, however, we still lag behind in implementation and dissemination of the policy.  A recent survey done across private sector organizations reveals that workplace is the most sexually aggressive place in their lives of female employees. It further highlights that most employers turn blind eye to sexual harassment complaints and there is lack of awareness amongst women employees about complaint mechanism within the organization.

Looking into the statistics of poor implementation of the Act by Corporates and in wake of the worldwide Social media campaign #MeToo, Ministry of women and Child development has taken a historic step in November 2017 by launching a comprehensive SHe-Box online complaint Management System for women working in both public and private organizations to lodge complaints of sexual harassment. This is a historic step and now the aggrieved employee can file complaints online directly instead of going through internal complaints committee route at their organization.

The link to SHE BOX-Box portal: http://shebox.nic.in/

Hope this Article enlightens the reader about provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 read with The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Rules, 2013 and She Box complaint Mechanism.

For any more queries on the topic, you may write to aashi2006@gmail.com

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