This article was written by Rahul Bajaj of Nagupur University while he was interning at iPleaders.
The new Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013 recognizes that equality of employment can be seriously impaired when women are subjected to gender-specific violence.
It, therefore, puts in place a robust and effective mechanism for dealing with cases of sexual harassment at the workplace. You can know more about the law and various compliances related to it by taking up this course which is created by National University of Juridical Sciences. You can also learn about implementation of sexual harassment laws by taking up this course.
This article seeks to analyze how an employer should deal with a complaint of sexual harassment.
Providing guidance and support:
If an employee complains of sexual harassment, the very first thing that an employer needs to do is to provide emotional support to the aggrieved woman. Women who are victims of such horrendous acts often experience a large array of emotions and don’t know how they should react in such a situation. Therefore, it is an employer’s responsibility to pay heed to the woman’s complaint and to discuss with her the possible ways in which the matter can be effectively dealt with. That being said, an employer should not impose his/her views on the aggrieved woman; he should just inform her about her entitlements under the Act.
Complaints to the internal complaints committee (ICC):
The employer must inform the aggrieved woman that, if she wants the ICC to conduct a formal inquiry, she must submit a written complaint within 3 months of the incident.
The internal complaints committee has the same powers as a civil court, so it can, inter alia, summon all parties that were involved in the incident in any way to interrogate them and ask the parties to produce all necessary documents. The employer must closely monitor the work of the committee in order to rectify any discrepancies that may arise. The employer should also ensure that the recommendations of the ICC are in accordance with the principle of natural justice. Similarly, if the woman wants to file a police complaint, the employer must do everything within his/her power to help the woman.
Compliance with report of ICC:
The Act states that the report of the inquiry must be provided to the employer within 10 days of completion of the inquiry. The report must also be submitted to all the concerned parties.
If the allegation against the respondent has been proven in accordance with Section 13 of the Act, the ICC shall advise the employer to take appropriate action in accordance with the provisions of service rules applicable to the respondent. The remedies may include termination of the respondent, deduction of penalty from his salary or wages, etc.
If the internal committee comes to a conclusion that it was a false or malicious accusation or that the witness has given false evidence or produced any forged or misleading document as laid down under Section 14, it may advise the employer of the complainant to take action in accordance with the provisions of the service rules. The employer is duty-bound to act upon the recommendations of the ICC within 60 days.
The employer must not reveal any information pertaining to the address of the aggrieved woman, respondent or witnesses, conciliation or inquiry, etc to any outsider. The employer must take all possible measures to safeguard the privacy of the aggrieved woman.
Helping the aggrieved woman to attain closure:
The employer should strive to help the woman in attaining closure in addition to implementing the recommendations of the committee. The woman may want, inter alia, to be transferred to another office, or may want an extended leave to come to terms with the trauma that an event of this magnitude unleashes. The employer must not hesitate to agree to such justified demands.
Various studies have shown that a major reason why acts of sexual harassment at the workplace go unchecked is because most employers, advertently or inadvertently, try to brush such matters under the carpet. Now, as never before, there is a dire need for employers to recognize their duty to provide a safe and enabling work environment to their female employees.