sexual harassment at workplace

This article is written by Aditya Shrivastava, marketing executive at iPleaders.

It was her first official trip to London. After working in the organization for 4 years, going through ups and downs, she finally managed to get this one opportunity she had been waiting for. She did not come from a very strong financial background and it was going to be her first trip abroad. All her excitement, her dreams, hopes and aspirations were broken when she was asked for sexual favours at London by her boss. She had no place to go, nowhere to protect herself.

The incident mentioned above is not just a story. It is a harrowing instance of sexual harassment at workplace which innumerable women face each day. A survey by eandblaw.com revealed that almost a third of business women (31.4%) have faced sexual harassment while travelling.

It is not possible to restrict interactions with someone’s co-workers, managers, bosses, etc. to only the four walls of the workplace or to the work hours. With the advent of social networking and more systematic communication, work and work-related conversations have moved beyond the cabins. There are employees working from home and there are employees who travel to various client sites, locations, conferences, meetings, etc. to work. However, as these interactions and work geographies have become larger so has sexual harassment. With the advent of Sexual Harassment (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (hereinafter the Act),  sexual harassment complaints are no longer restricted to coffee machine conversations.

The case worsens when sexual harassment happens during a business trip or on work travel as the women seldom have no idea about what to do in such a case or where to go. In the same survey by securitymagazine.com 79.2% of female business travellers claimed they are under-prepared to deal with the incidents they encounter.

In this article, we will try to figure out what are the basic requirements for a sexual harassment claim to be effective, and whether a sexual harassment incident outside the workplace in the course of work is covered under the Act. If you are an HR Manager or someone who has faced any such experience you can feel free to contact me on [email protected]. Sexual Harassment Prevention is not just a policy anymore. It is an important compliance that the companies are required to follow. If you are an HR who needs to formulate sexual harassment policies for employees travelling abroad or if you are a woman who is taking a business trip for the first time, you can have look at this course.

What is sexual harassment at workplace?

As I have mentioned in this article, according to the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, any of the following circumstances:

  1. Physical contact
  2. Demand or request for sexual favours
  3. Sexually coloured remarks
  4. Showing pornography
  5. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature

If occurred, or is present in pretext to or connected with any of the following acts or behaviours may amount to sexual harassment:

  1. Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment
  2. Implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in her employment
  3. Interferes with her work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her
  4. Humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety

Sexual harassment, as per Indian laws, is a form of gender discrimination which is strictly prohibited under the law. The definition is pretty simple and extremely inclusive of all the aspects that are covered under sexual harassment. Any unwelcome conduct of sexual nature is sexual harassment and you can report it.

Can Sexual Harassment Occur Outside the Workplace?

Before the enactment of the Act, there was a huge speculation about what could be possibly called a workplace. It was subject to the court’s interpretation. However, as per Section 2(o) of the Act, the definition of workplace has been made wide enough to cover every place that a woman might have to visit in the course of her employment. Right from her designated workplace to hospitals, events or games venues to business trips including the transport provided by the employer in the course of employment is covered under the definition.

It is safe to say the law has been successful to not limit the place and time of work, thereby including every possibility of harassment. In fact, the legislature has looked beyond the day to day routines of office environment to curb harassment of any sort by any employer/co-worker.

What should you do when the need arises?

A lot of women on business trips, especially abroad, succumb to the situation and eventually give up to the circumstances. They tend to keep quiet after coming back and eventually quit their jobs due to frustration. However, quitting is not the solution to the problem. Here are some tips that can ensure that you are safe and sound:

Please ensure that you have a return ticket (or enough funds), hotel booking details, your passport and visa with you

The very first thing you need to do before leaving for any other country is to ensure that you have a legit return ticket and details of the hotel booked for you. You need to make sure that the hotel is safe and has an access to local security and police guards. Hotels have such information available on their website. Every company allocates funds to the employees who are travelling abroad. If you are going for the first time, you can request the finance team to allocate more funds to you. Ensure that you keep enough money with you (cash or on your card) so that in case the situation becomes hostile you can easily return. Under any circumstance, do not trust anyone with your visa or passport. Make sure that it is with you all the time and you have access to it at any point of time.

Say NO and report!

In most of the cases, any sexual advancement can be brought to task by saying no. However, if it is insisted upon or you are being subjected to immense pressure, you need to email your company’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and report the matter. In case, your company’s ICC also turns out to be of no help, you can contact the local authorities or file a complaint with the Local Complaints Committee (LCC) by sending any of your family member and calling for rescue. Remember, you can lodge a complaint within 3 months of any such incident taking place. Therefore, you have a remedy to come back and take the case further. You can read about how and where to report here.

Protesting in a different country against injustice against you by your own employer can be difficult, but it is definitely an option you have. It doesn’t matter where you go, you need to stay strong and stay alert. In case you have more doubts you can reach out to sexual harassment law experts here.

Stay strong, stay aware, stay safe.

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