There is an Act that provides and protects women against sexual harassment at workplace and also provides for prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment
By: Dr. Suganthi Iyer
Sexual harassment results in violation of fundamentals rights of a woman to equality under Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution and right to live with dignity under article 21 and right to practise any profession and right to safe environment. Right to work with dignity and protection against sexual harassment are universally recognised human rights. Sexual harassment at workplace is violation of women’s right to equality, life and liberty as laid down in the Supreme Court Judgment Vishaka & Ors. Vs State of Rajasthan & Ors. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act came into effect on December 9, 2013.
What the Act includes
Aggrieved woman could be a woman of any age, employed or otherwise, who alleges to have been sexually harassed and includes unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature, physical contact and advances, demand or request for sexual favours, showing pornography and making sexually coloured remarks. It also includes promise of preferential treatment of employment and threat of future or detrimental employment, interference with work or creating hostile environment besides humiliating treatment.
Workplace also includes place visited by employee arising out of employment including transportation provided by employer.
The employer needs to provide a safe working environment, disseminate the internal policy and constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for redressal of complaints besides filing returns to the District Officer.
The ICC needs to have a minimum of 4 members and a quorum of 3 including a Presiding Officer to conduct an enquiry. At least 50% of the members must be women. Any Institution having more than 10 employees need to constitute an ICC.
How the complaint can be made
The complaint should be submitted in writing and need to be filed within 3 months of the incident. Reason has to be given for extension of timeline. A copy of the complaint has to be sent to the respondent within 7 days of receipt of the complaint, which the respondent needs to reply within 10 days.
Interim relief may be granted to the complainant depending upon the seriousness of the misconduct, which include transfer of the complainant or grant of leave up to 3 months and restrain respondent from reviewing work of complainant. Assistance to file police case also needs to be given. At the instance of the aggrieved, reconciliation could be done. Enquiry by ICC needs to be completed within 90 days from receipt of complaint. During the enquiry, principles of natural justice have to be followed and a reasonable opportunity for complainant and respondent to present their case needs to be given. ICC needs to assess if the complaint is false and malicious. Enquiry report needs to be submitted within 10 days of completion of enquiry.
Maintenance of confidentiality by all concerned parties is of utmost importance. All meetings’ minutes need to be noted and all investigative material retained securely.
Punishments include warning, reprimand, termination of employment and payment of compensation.
About the author
Dr. Suganthi Iyer is India’s leading Medico Legal expert and the Dy. Director at PD Hinduja Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org