dating policy

This article on sexual harassment at the workplace is written by Mithun Pillai, pursuing Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administrative and Business Law from NUJS, Kolkata.

The workplace brings together people in a team/group to function toward a corporate goal. Or, it could simply be a place where daily wage labourers toil to make ends meet. Or, it could be a house where a man or a woman is employed as a maid generally. Working together could mean personal boundaries of behavior and communication regularly being tested. When the behavior starts crossing moral limits and become unwanted it constitutes harassment. When a sexual tone is applied to the behavior it becomes sexual harassment.

The workplace generally gets its gear moving through a system of hierarchies. Power and responsibility differentiate the different levels of the corporate ladder. They are meant to decentralize function and work to efficiently achieve a goal but power sometimes has a tendency to corrupt.

Earlier, even though victims would complain about it to their superiors, notwithstanding the ingrained patriarchy of the system and the psyche, they were often suppressed ‘for the greater good’ which meant to save the reputation of the company. This would, in turn, have the effect of demoralizing other would-be victims.

The ‘casting couch’ is an infamous workplace phenomenon, usually happening in film fraternity, where power comes into play. It’s based on the idea of ‘quid pro’ where a superior might ask/commit sexual correspondence in return for job security or corporate progress. Although it might seem like a barter system to an emotionless observer, where the consent is apparently still intact, in reality, it’s a cunning predatory behavior abusing corporate power, similar to blackmail.   

Sometimes, mutual attraction could turn into harassment when one party decides to end the relationship for any matter. The professional relation, which became intimate now turns sour. Parties could sue the other for sexual harassment.

The idea of suppressing cases of sexual harassment to save the firm/company’s reputation is foolish. These incidents create tension in the workplace. Naturally, productivity is affected which then leads to poor efficiency in work. Employees should be made to feel safe. Feeling of well-being and security is directly proportional to productivity. 

In India, harassment of the sexual kind is routinely stretched to abuse, physical torture and in many shocking cases, brutal rape. These events often have their precursors as harassment which then increases in intensity with time. The fact that sexual harassment is called ‘eve-teasing’ gives an idea about how under-estimated its seriousness and effects are.

Up until 1997, the government and countries attitude toward sexual harassment was callous, which meant any laws regarding abuse of sexual kind at workplace or indeed any place was non-existent. But in 1997, in the landmark PIL case of Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan and Union of India, the Supreme Court passed guidelines to deal with sexual harassment of women at workplace. According to the judgement, sexual harassment is an unwanted sexual behavior, direct or implied, which include physical contact and advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, asking sexual favours or any other unwanted conduct of sexual nature.

Even though the judgement was a landmark one in the history of women rights, the ruling were still only guidelines. It was only till 2013, that the government passed concrete law called ‘Sexual Harassment of women at workplace(Prevention, Prohibition and redressal)Act, 2013’. This act defined sexual harassment and expanded the concept of workplace from a traditional office set up to all environments in which people work for a living. Every company with 10 or more employees shall be eligible under the act. A company is expected to implement an anti-sexual harassment policy, constitute a committee to look into harassment cases when they arise. The act also provides for cases which falsely accuse individuals of harassment. The Complaints Committee is legally required to complete the inquiry, proceeding and report making in 90 days and forward the findings to the designated employee or District Officer, who in turn will take a decision within 60 days. You can learn a lot more about such compliances regarding sexual harassment prevention at workplace by taking up this course.

It’s the employer’s legal obligation to implement the sexual harassment policy in the organization. The HR department should play a proactive role in educating employees about the policy. When rules are clear, victims have a sense of safety and security, such that they understand they won’t be penalized or ostracized in any way for taking a stand against a social and corporate injustice. The cause for sexual harassment is manifold. Starting with the inherent patriarchy in our social fabric or jealousy it stretches to the power play and at the other end wrongful accusation. Thus, originally used as a redressal mechanism for social change, it can also be used a manipulative weapon. This is why an impartial Complaints committee is necessary for an unbiased judgement. Although the act protects women from harassment, there have been some cases of men being subject to harassment. The causes seem to be the same excepting patriarchal prejudice. Men also need to be protected from unwanted sexual conduct. It so happens that complaint of sexual harassment by men could be seen as a sign of the weakness and blow to the masculine stereotype. This may be why there are so few cases of men lodging harassment complaints. Regardless, the law needs to be gender neutral.You can learn more about implementing such laws by taking up this course.

The economic and educational progress of our country has resulted in self-confidence of our men and women. Thus, if they face any harassment, at this point of time they are more willing and bold to confront their perpetrators than twenty years ago. Thus, overall development at the individual and at the societal level helps catalyze this movement. Our law is not perfect. It needs continuous improvement from its citizens to help the posterity nip the social evil of sexual abuse and harassment in the bud itself.   


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