Sexual Harassment Laws
Sexual Harassment at workplace is a burgeoning problem today. It is an undesirable extension of female subjugation borne out of our traditional societal notions of patriarchy. To combat this social evil, there is a need of change in attitudes of all the stakeholders including the employers, employees, colleagues, friends and relatives. It is also an infringement of the fundamental rights of a woman, under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution of India and degrades the notions of equality and dignity and well-being of workers, something our Constitution clearly frowns upon.
The buck does not stop here. Sexual Harassment also leads to low productivity and a negative impact on lives of women.
Forced conformity to gender specific roles and inequalities at workplaces are one of the biggest impediments to tackle sexual harassment at workplace. The Supreme Court defined sexual harassment as any unwelcome, sexually determined physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct. For instance, sexually suggestive remarks about women or demands for sexual favours. Creating a hostile work environment also qualifies as sexual harassment at workplace.
To address this problem, the Government of India enacted Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The act was enacted to “to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment.” The Act is an extension of the Vishakha Guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in 1997. The law brought in various compliances that business owners have to keep in mind. Needless to say, these compliances will contribute to realizing gender equality and equality in working conditions.
Create a workplace free of sexual harassment
You are obligated to create a workplace free of sexual harassment. For this purpose, you should create policies and ensure awareness on the issue. Hence, the law holds the employers responsible and accountable to prevent workplace sexual harassment in compliance with the Act.
Establish an Internal Complaints Committee
The Act mandates formation of two committees- Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and Local Complaints Committee (LCC). As an employer, you need to establish an ICC through a written order. It must have atleast 50 percent representation of women and should be composed of a Chairperson (Women working at senior level as employee), a minimum of two members and a member from amongst NGO/associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issue of Sexual Harassment.
The District Officer, appointed by the State Government, shall constitute an LCC in every district so as to enable women in the unorganized sector or small establishments to work in an environment free of sexual harassment.
Prepare an Anti Sexual Harassment Policy
The employers must also prepare an anti-sexual harassment policy. Ideally, the policy should prohibit sexual harassment, lay down guidelines for prevention of sexual harassment through awareness and sensitization programmes and a detailed framework for redress.
Please note that it is not advisable to blindly copy-paste the policies adopted by other organizations. It is important that your organization’s policy is in consonance with the provisions of the Act and incorporates these provisions.
Amend your Employees’ Agreements
Any instance of sexual harassment is now treated as employee misconduct. Hence, it is important that employee agreements are amended to include sexual harassment within the ambit of employee misconduct. It is suggested that the employee agreements should be revised completely and any contradictions with the company’s anti sexual harassment policy be removed.
Organize regular awareness programmes
The employers are duty bound to organize regular awareness programmes and sensitize the employees about the sexual harassment issues and their rights and duties. The employers must strive to create forums for dialogue and ensure capacity and skill building of Complaints Committees. According to the Central Government rules under the Sexual Harassment Act, every employer is required to make efforts to carry out
- Dissemination of the policy against sexual harassment.
- Orientation programs for the members of ICC.
- capacity and skill-building programs for the members of ICC.
For the purpose of this, the employers may consider inviting legal practitioners who have worked on women’s rights issues, representatives of NGOs, organizations working on the issues of women’s rights or human rights for such orientation and sensitization programs.
Display penal consequences of sexual harassment conspicuously
As an employer, you should ensure that that the penal consequences of sexual harassment are being clearly displayed at a notice board. You may display this along with the contact information of ICC around the office and at places such as canteen, coffee machines, restrooms etc.
Fulfill the filing and reporting requirements
The law also imposes certain filing and reporting requirements. Various provisions of Sexual Harassment Act require the employer to furnish certain details to the Government.
Companies, societies and trusts are required to file annual reports with different entities. For instance, a company files its annual report with the Registrar of Companies. It is imperative that companies include information related to sexual harassment cases in such reports.
The sole proprietors, partnership firms and Limited Liability Partnerships are not required to prepare annual reports. However, they are required to furnish the details of the cases filed in his organization and whether they have been disposed off or not.
The employer is also required to send reports of measures taken to ICC or LCC. Similarly, ICC is required to submit reports regularly.
Consequences of non-compliances
The consequences of non-compliance are quite severe. A monetary penalty of up to INR 50,000 can be imposed on you if you fail to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee. Further, the aggrieved or any person authorized by the Internal or Local Complaints Committee can file a complaint with the Magistrate. Repeated non-compliances can result in more sever consequences as well. The Act also provides for penalty in case of failure to implement the recommendations of the ICC or the Local Committee.