Sexual harassment
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This article has been written by Aditi Rana, pursuing the Certificate Course in Advanced Civil Litigation: Practice, Procedure and Drafting from LawSIkho.

Introduction

Hostile work environment is a situation in which all the employees of the office are not treated equally or some of them face intentional discrimination on the basis of their caste, religion, age, gender, even sexual harassment of an employee falls under the category of a hostile work environment. A situation in which the employee doesn’t feel secure at all and feels depressed and harassed which may also lead to him or her in quitting the job.

Collective groupism and harassment by other employees, bosses and seniors all are the categories of hostile work environments. The most crucial types of cases of these kinds of cases are sexual harassment of women at workplaces. This kind of harassment can not only take place in office cubicles with educated women but also with uneducated women who rarely even know about their rights. For instance the female labourers who are assaulted by the employers at construction sites.

Illustrations

Some of the basic illustrations of sexual harassment at the workplace are:

  1. A’s boss calls her daily and attempts to assault her this carried out for a few days until she decided to report his acts which led her in quitting the job.
  2. A, an uneducated women having two children came from her village to the city looking for work after the death of her husband to earn a living, B an owner of a restaurant gives her a job of a waitress but knowing her conditions he assaults her every day by passing cheap comments and makes the work environment unbearable for her and she decided to quit.
  3. A is an employee who has worked at a corporate firm for eight years all of a sudden she has been asked by the employers to leave her job as she is not young like other female employees and they are no longer hiring employees above 28 years of age.

Safety is the situation in which a person feels secure and protected, it is crucial for a person to feel secure outside as well as in their homes. A workplace is just like a second home for any employee because apart from their homes it is the place where one spends most of the time. Discrimination of any sort and harassing an employee or making the work environment difficult for them is not legal as it affects their ‘right to equality’ which is also a fundamental right according to the Constitution of India. There are several legal remedies available for preventing hostile environments at a workplace.

Legal point

Laws are amended from time to time and new acts are produced to meet the changing needs of the society.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act

While Article 14 gives everyone the right to equality, women in our country are progressing in the job sector but why are those places unsafe for them? A workplace is considered as the second home of the employee but still, most women feel unsafe at their workplaces. Women are getting assaulted every day in their offices. A more devastating situation is that in our Indian Culture, women are asked to keep quiet and this is the reason a lot of sexual harassment cases are not even reported because it is against their honour. Female labourers and uneducated class cannot even complain about this as they have nobody to speak for their voices.

This Act ensures that all women feel safe and secure at their workplaces. They do not have to undergo any sort of harassment and humiliation in the name of promotions and equal wages. Section 2(1) and Section 2(2) (i), (ii), (iii),(iv) of the Act clearly states the provisions protecting women from any sort of sexual harassment at workplace.

The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013

With the passing of this Act in 2013 several amendments were made in The Indian Penal Code, 1860, The Code of Criminal Procedure, and The Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Acid Attack which falls under Section 326-A and Section 326-B of The Indian Penal Code was amended and the Punishment was increased to 10 years imprisonment which may also exceed for life and with fine.

Offences against women are severely punishable under the I. P. C. All these sections also apply to the offences that are Section 354, 354A and 354B.

Constitutional Point

Article 14 of The Constitution of India provides “equality before the law”. This Article states that everyone is equal in the eyes of law. Article 15 of the India Constitution states Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Right to equality which is also a fundamental right, if violated; the person can directly approach the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India under Article 32 and also the High Court under Article 226. Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution ensures the right to freedom of speech and expression; and has protected people’s right to speech since it was implemented. 

Landmark Judgements

Air India v. Nergesh Meerza

In this case, the Air India had laid out some norms for the retirement of the air hostess which were as follows:

An air hostess will be asked to automatically retire or her services will be terminated if:

  1. She is 35 years old.
  2. She gets married within the first four years of service.
  3. On her first pregnancy.

There were further conditions that if the managing director wants to extend their service or decrease the term period of their service he has the power to do so.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in this matter held the conditions of the termination due to first pregnancy is unconstitutional the Supreme court further held that the termination of the services of an AH under such circumstances is not only a callous and cruel act but an open insult to Indian womanhood the most sacrosanct and cherished institution. Such a course of action is extremely detestable and abhorrent to the notions of a civilised society. Apart from being grossly unethical, it smacks of a deep-rooted sense of utter selfishness at the cost of all human values.

Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan

In this case, a lady who was working for an NGO during 1992 stopped a marriage during her workplace; those were times when child marriages were taking places and government had appointed various NGOs to make sure that child marriage is strictly prohibited, five people raped her out of the intentions of taking revenge. 

The harassment did not end over here. When the lady went to report the matter she was dodged from everywhere and was not attended by the police officials either which led to the violations of her various rights then an NGO named Vishakha filed a petition and this case was a landmark judgement which led to the issuance of guidelines which would ensure that women are safe and secure at their workplaces. 

The Hon’ble Supreme Court held women have a fundamental right towards the freedom of sexual harassment at the workplace. It also put forward various important guidelines for the employees to follow them and avoid sexual harassment of women at workplace.

Conclusion

A hostile work environment is a disgusting form of discrimination and in a country like ours laws have been upgraded and amended from time to time to ensure that no inequality is done with any citizen of India whether it is a male or female. When India got independence from British rule the basic feature that we lacked was inequality, inequality due to casteism, lack of education and class difference. Right to equality is a fundamental right and the core of Indian Constitution, the makers of the Constitution made sure that these rights are not violated at any cost and every person feels equal throughout the country and all these rules also apply to the workplaces.


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