sexual harassment at workplace

Written by Roshan Karthik, pursuing Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws offered by Lawsikho, as part of his coursework. Roshan is an Entrepreneur, Co-Founder- EarthFokus, sourced suppliers for different raw materials. 

Introduction

Company’s role in preventing sexual harassment at the work place does not end with  just setting up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). Other things such as anti-sexual harassment policies, notices at the work place and conducting sessions for the  employees.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Rederessal) Act, 2013 also known as the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act. This was enacted by  the Parliament.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace/ Sexual Harassment Prevention Act  imposes more than ten obligations on companies (employers) to ensure that working  women do not face sexual harassment at the workplace. There are various penalties that will be enforced if there are reported cases of non-compliance with any of the provisions. The penalties will include fines or even  cancellations of the business license(s).

The company/organization should have zero tolerance against sexual harassment at the workplace. Employees should feel uneasy to even think of their co-workers in sexual terms.

The company/organization should promise the highest confidentiality to the victim of  sexual harassment.

The various points to be included in the sexual harassment policy of a company are:

The company should create an Internal Complains Committee (ICC) at all the offices or branches of the  organization

Every organization/company must setup and constitute an ‘Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)’ at every office location or branch, where there are at least 10 employees  employed there. The Internal Complaints Committee must be setup even if there are no women employees. Complying to this setting up of the Internal Complaints Committee is very important, because this allows even third parties such as contractors, customers and anyone who is visiting the premises of the organization to file complaints of sexual  harassment that took place at the workplace.

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The organization’s/company’s anti-sexual harassment policy should be aligned with the provisions of the law,  for example, such as definition clauses, procedural mechanisms, interim remedies, etc.,

A number of organizations/companies simply blindly copy and paste the anti-sexual harassment policies that are adopted by other companies/organizations, from other companies/organizations, sometimes even from foreign companies/organizations. The basic principles of anti-sexual harassment laws are the same throughout the world, and there is nothing illegal or any harm being done in considering the best practices of the industry on a global scale, but simply copy-pasting content without giving thought about the implications of the content in context and cross-checking to ensure if these laws actually meet all the required standards under the Anti-Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace, 2013 might be counterproductive and might not be able to meet the purpose. It is important that the policies are drafted in accordance with the provisions of the Anti-Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act and clearly incorporates the provisions that are laid out under the law.

Changes should me made in the employees contracts as this makes the employees legally bound for acts that relate to sexual harassment at the workplace.

The Anti- Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act requires the company/organization to treat any instances of sexual harassment as misconduct under the rules of employment. The employment contract or service rules, should clearly state that sexual harassment of any form will be treated as a form of misconduct. For new hire employees, the organization/company should insert a specific clause in the employment contract that states that sexual harassment will be considered as a misconduct. For existing employees, the organization/company should share a copy of the sexual harassment policies and should ask the employees to sign on the amended service rules and submit the same with human resources department. The consequences for misconduct should be clearly specified and must not be vague terms such as deduction of wages or termination of employment.

The company/organization should organize and conduct workshops and awareness programmes at periodical intervals for, a) sensitizing employees on implications of sexual harassment at the work place, and b) organizing orientation programmes for members of the Internal Complaints Committee.

The company/organization has the responsibility to sensitize employees regarding sexual harassment issues by organizing and conducting workshops and seminars. Under the Anti- Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act the central government requires the company/organizations to implement the following: –

  1. Dissemination of the policies against sexual harassment.
  2. Carrying orientation programs for the members of the Internal Complaints Committee.
  3. Conduct skill building programmes for the members of the Internal Complaints Committee.
  4. Publish names and contact details of the members of the Internal Complaints Committee for the easy access by employees of the company/organization.
  5. The company/organization may invite legal practitioners, representatives of NGOs, organizations that have worked on issues that are related to women’s rights or human rights for such orientation programs on sensitizing sexual harassment.
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The penal consequences and legal actions for indulging in acts that constitute sexual harassment and the composition of the Internal Complaints Committee should be displayed visibly at the workplace.

The organization/company should put up notices and displays in visible places at the workplace about the penal consequences of indulging in sexual harassment. This is done to create a sense of continuous awareness and a sensitisation for the employees. The names and contact information of the members of the Internal Complaints Committee can be included in the notices as well. The places where these notices should be put up is important, it should be places where the employees will read the notices, examples of such places include the cafeteria, washrooms, Xerox machines, etc.,

Even if a perpetrator is not an employee, the company/organization should  help employees to initiate legal action against the perpetrator for sexual harassment under the criminal law.

In certain situations, sexual harassment could have occurred at the workplace, but the perpetrator is not under the control of the company/organization. Therefore, the company/organization has limited powers to assist the victim through the Internal Complaints Committee. But, if the victim requests the company/organization is obliged under the law to provide adequate assistance to the victim in approaching the police station, filing a First Information Report (FIR), approaching the courts, etc.,

The Internal Complaints Committee should be provided with necessary  facilities for dealing with sexual harassment instances.

The Internal Complaints Committee will require facilitation and assistance from the company/organization’s end to carry out the enquiries. The facilitation from the company/organization’s side can include: –   

  1. Providing the Internal Complaints Committee with a venue so that the enquiry can be carried out comfortably in a confidential manner.
  2. Logistical support, for example, furniture, stationery etc.,
  3. Ensuring the members of the Internal Complaints Committee have access to secure communication, for example, internet, phone connectivity, etc., as this ensures the smooth proceedings of the enquiry hearing sessions.
  4. Providing access to the company/organization’s policies and manuals. Any basic legal literature that is possessed by the company/organization.
  5. The company/organization must assist the Internal Complaints Committee to ensure the person who is alleged to be the perpetrator is present for the enquiry. Any witnesses to the crime should also be present.

Failing to comply with obligations- Consequences

A company/organization that fails to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee as per the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act 2013, will be liable for a monetary penalty of up to RS. 50,000/-. Repeated non-compliance of this may result in the punishment going up to the extent of cancellation of the business license by the government.

Failure to implement the requirements and recommendations made by the Internal  Complaints Committee, or failure to include appropriate details pertaining to filing and  disposal of sexual harassment cases carries the same penalty.

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