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The recent gang rape in Delhi did not just bring about the of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. It brought with it a mass outcry for the protection of women and their upliftment. It came with a call to extend the basic tenets of the constitution of equality, liberty and protection of life and personal dignity to that group that constituted half of India’s population - it’s women. Whether it was the private sphere or the public sphere, protection of women against sexual harassment of any kind was here to stay. More so the recent revelation by intern Stella James on being sexually assaulted by a Supreme Court Judge and Tehelka’s founder-editor Tarun Tejpal confessing to sexually assaulting a journalist has brought to fore just how important it is to ensure the safety of women in the work environment.

 

One of the most significant changes was extending this protection with legislative sanction to the “Workplace”. Non-compliance with these provisions invite penalties which are both civil and criminal in nature. Hence, it is apt for you to take some time and read this article in order to understand your duty under the newly passed law in order to not only escape any liability, but also ensure a safe and enriching atmosphere for women at your workplace.

 

Are you covered under the Act?

 

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013.

 

The definition of “Workplace” under this act is broad. If your company/organization/enterprise and any of its sub units are directly or indirectly funded by the government, or yours is a private sector undertaking, NGO, Hospital, nursing institute, or dwelling place, you are covered under the act. The definition thus covers almost everyone who employs other people.

 

For the purpose of the act, an “Employer” is any person who controls and directs substantially the policy of the work setting and has direction and control over the employees. Binding obligations are placed on you if you find yourself to be the Employer.



What is Sexual Harassment?

 

In a landmark Supreme court judgement in 1997 over a rape case, the Vishaka guidelines were laid down. This guideline laid on a employer the duty to prevent the commission of the commission of sexual harassment and to provide procedures for the resolution and settlement of the sexual harassment by taking all steps possible.

 

This guideline also laid, for the first time the definition of sexual harassment. It was determined as any unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (Direct or implied) as:

       (a) physical conduct or advances; this could range from staring to stalking and even to actual physical contact.

           (b) a demand or request for a sexual favour;

        (c)  sexually coloured remarks; It is important to remember that the sexual harassment is determined by the subjective perception of the person alleging harassment. Hence, anything ranging from a sexual joke to sexist comments can be booked for sexual harassment.

        (d) showing pornography;

       (e) any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non - verbal conduct of sexual nature

 

As already stated, such behaviour is determined by the subjective experience of the employee who has claimed harassment at the hands of another. This thus calls for a greater precaution.

 

What are your duties under the Act?

 

Covered in this sections, are all the provisions of the act that you are bound to follow. The act after its definitions begins with the overarching duty that no woman shall be subject to any sexual harassment. This would include protecting her against any preferential or detrimental treatment in employment or any act which is likely to affect her health or her status of employment.

 

As an employer, you are required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee not only in your head office but also all the branched that employ women.

Further, half the members of this committee must be women and the constitution is

(a) A presiding woman officer who is nominated from amongst the employees.     (Preferably senior)

    (b)  At least two members from amongst the employees who are committed to the cause of woman/have social work experience or possess legal knowledge.

    (c) One person from an NGO or organization committed to the cause of woman or familiar with cases dealing with sexual harassment.

 

Further, the Act requires you as the employer to follow the recommendations of the Internal Complaints Committee to either transfer the aggrieved woman to another workplace or grant her a leave of three months. This leave shall be in addition to the leave otherwise prescribed to all your employees and you are also expected to act upon any other recommendations of this committee. It is important that all data regarding the complaint and the woman stays confidential.

 

Most important, if you as an employer fail to meet with the requirements of the act as briefly stated above, you will be liable to a fine of Rs 50,000/- which on repeat offenses may lead to a higher fine, or the cancellation of your licence.

 

How to prevent the commission of Sexual Harassment?

 

As an employer

 

As an employer, the primary duty of ensuring that women at your workplace are safe is yours. The Act, under a different section, enumerates substantially your other duties that are undertaken to make the workplace safer for women. They, among other things include:

    (a) Displaying at conspicuous places at your workplace information about sexual harassment and the penal consequences of the same.

    (b) Conducting regular workshops and demonstrations in order to sensitize the employees on the issue of sexual harassment in order to promote gender sensitization.

    (c) Providing the Internal Complaints Committee with any facility it may require in order to investigate cases completely and prevent any hindrances to their functioning.

    (d) Providing any assistance needed by the recipient of sexual harassment in order to help her file a case and achieve effective redressal.

    (e) Helping the women initiate penal action under the Indian Penal Code or any other law in force when the perpetrator is not an employee of the company and is a third party.

    (f) Ensuring that all people at the workplace are aware of the policies and programmes in place and are regularly updated of any progress and changes.

    (g) Ensuring that all people at the workplace understand that sexual harassment is not something that is taken likely, and applies to everyone at the workplace including top management.

    (h) Helping remove the taboo that surrounds sexual harassment. The circulation of information, communication and guidance is of importance when trying to remove the taboo that surrounds such a phenomenon. Office meetings, informal sessions, group discussions and personal meetings play a high role in this regard.

    (i) Taking any other measure needed to ensure that a woman feels safe at her workplace and that any hardship she undergoes can be addressed without detrimental treatment to her employment. Building the trust of employees through impartial treatment to all is a core principle of promoting gender sensitization in your company.

 

As an employee

 

As an employee, preventing sexual harassment is relatively simpler. You just have to follow the right COURSE:

 

Confrontat your workplace any behavior that you find has the potential to harass someone. Even though you are not advised to take into your own hands such problems, small actions towards prevent subtle harassing behaviour goes a long way.

 

Observeyour surroundings and understand your workplace and the policies in place. Further, be aware of engaging in those activities that have the potential to sexually harass others.

 

Understandin detail the anti- sexual harassment policies that your company has implemented. Also, understand that sexual harassment is a grave form of offense that makes the recipient of such harassment undergo trauma of different sorts.

 

Resolveany potential conflicts between yourselves. Sexual harassment has serious consequences on the image of the company and the recipient of the harassment. There should be an attempt to resolve minute differences between the parties.

 

Support any person you know who has been harassed and encourage them to take action to sort it out. Further, if you are aware of any sexually harassing behaviour, you may support the person by taking necessary action and bringing into loop the employer.

 

Examineyour own behaviour, action and comments and ask yourself whether any of it could potentially lead to sexual harassment. Further, don’t treat any form of sexual harassment as a joke. Understanding the seriousness of it is the first step towards its prevention.

 

Other General Precautions

 

Above all your legal obligations prescribed by the law, you must understand that all cases that are related to sexual harassment must be dealt with the highest amount of sensitivity. The Justice Verma Committee Report of 2013 adequately outlined that sexual harassment of any nature is a highest form of bodily and mental violation of the personal dignity of a woman and any measure to prevention and reform begins at the grass root level by having more people aware of the seriousness of such a harm. The report further went on to state preventing such behaviour is not just the duty of the employer but of all the people in the workspace. Ensuring the safety of women on your company and providing adequate redressal of their grievances is the first step towards not only ensuring your compliance with the newly laid down laws, but also that the work atmosphere of your company is positive, enriching and successful.

 

Tagged in: law Sexual Offences
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