This article was written by Rahul Bajaj of Nagpur University while he was interning at iPleaders. Rahul is visually challenged.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious violation of a woman’s right to live and work with dignity. It not only adversely affects a woman’s self esteem and confidence, but also creates an extremely hostile work environment. Before 2013, women had very limited options to bring the perpetrators of such horrendous acts to book. However, the new Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 gives working women the right to take action against the perpetrators of sexual harassment at the workplace. This article seeks to analyze the ways in which women can use their entitlements under this Act in an efficacious manner.
Who can file a complaint for sexual harassment
The definition of “aggrieved woman” who can seek protection under the Act is very capacious and covers all women, irrespective of their age or employment status, whether in the organised or unorganised public and private sectors and covers clients, customers as well as domestic workers.
First thing to do if you think you were sexually harassed
The very first thing that women who believe they have been sexually harassed must do is to educate themselves to ensure that the incident actually counts as harassment. This is particularly important because a complaint that doesn’t necessarily count as sexual harassment will generate unnecessary stress, legal costs and damaged relationships. We have created a course for quickly learning your legal rights and duties.
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.
Broadly speaking, sexual harassment includes any incident that interferes with a woman’s success at work or creates a hostile work environment. It includes but is not limited to: A. Physical contact and sexual advances; B. Demand or request for sexual favours; C. Sexually coloured remarks; D. Showing pornography ; and E. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal or written conduct of a sexual Nature …and also quite a few other things that can create a hostile work environment. After determining with reasonable certainty that she has actually been subjected to sexual harassment, the aggrieved woman must figure out what specific form of sexual harassment she has been subjected to. Understanding the different forms that sexual harassment can take will immensely help an aggrieved woman to file a more cogent complaint. Many employees are actually in a position to file a written complaint, but end up not doing so because they don’t understand the definition and types of sexual harassment.
Filing a formal sexual harassment complaint can often be intimidating and challenging. In such cases, resolving the dispute informally might be an ideal solution as it helps to diffuse a minor issue without diluting or escalating the problem. In order to resolve the dispute informally, the aggrieved woman must first tell the perpetrator of sexual harassment, in no unclear terms, that his behaviour is not welcome and must urge him to refrain from such acts in future. If that doesn’t work, the woman should contact her superior i.e. HOD, SBU, Head/HR/ Woman representative of the location and should discuss the problem with that person. Section 10 of the Act delineates the procedure for conciliation which is an informal method to resolve a dispute. It is pertinent to note that the process of conciliation can only commence at the behest of the aggrieved woman. This can offer a solution which is amenable to both the parties.
Formal complaint of Sexual Harassment
If the aggrieved woman wants a formal inquiry to be conducted, she must make a complaint in writing within 3 months of the date of the incident to the internal complaints committee (ICC). If she wishes to complain for a series of incidents, she must file a complaint within 3 months of the last incident. The time limit may further be extended by three months if the woman can prove the existence of grave circumstances which caused the delay in reporting. The Internal Complaints Committee will render reasonable assistance to the aggrieved woman for filing the complaints in writing. If the aggrieved woman is unable to make a complaint on account of her physical or mental incapacity or death, her legal heirs can do so. The written complaint must include details such as the time and date of the incident, the name of the individuals involved, the place where the harassment occurred and other details that pertain to the incident. The woman should also attach all relevant documents such as written statements, emails, letters or sms sent to her by the perpetrator, list of witnesses etc in support of her complaint.
Inquiry by Internal Complaints Committee
The ICC has all the powers of a civil court. It can, therefore, inter alia, summon the parties for interrogation and demand evidence. The ICC generally calls both parties separately and asks them to present their version of the events in question. It also carefully scrutinizes the evidence provided by both the parties. The aggrieved woman must clearly and unambiguously explain her grievance in the ICC inquiry. She must present all the evidence at her disposal to support her claim and must extend her full cooperation to the ICC to ensure that the inquiry gets completed in an expeditious manner.
The Sexual Harassment Act encompasses many provisions for the benefit of women who want to file a grievance for sexual harassment. However, the onus is on the aggrieved woman to raise her voice against such rampant malpractices and to assert her rights.