Importance of Sexual Harassment Compliance For A Safe Working Culture in India
In the year 1997 a cruel gang rape of a social worker in Rajasthan brought a lot of attention. Sexual harassment has been identified as a violation of human rights and considered as a crime that violates the respect and dignity of a women.
Sexual harassment recently have become a social problem witnessing the widespread entry of women at work This resulted to implement “Sexual Harassment ACT” in India for the prevention of any kind of sexual harassment against female employees that takes place at their workplace. The law hopes to recompense as well as prevent cases of sexual harassment witnessed at the workplaces across India.
Introducing Sexual Harassment Act in India
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act is a legal act of the Indian parliament that came into effect on December 9, 2013. The Act was passed after numerous political delays and controversies, and is based on the landmark guidelines established by the Supreme Court in the case of Vishaka versus State of Rajasthan, 1997.
The 2013 Act seeks to specifically protect women from sexual harassment at their workplace, and provides a re-dressal mechanism to handle complaints. It also provides safeguards against false or malicious charges. The Act contains a number of provisions for employers in India. Employers in India should carefully review the main provisions of the Act, and adopt human resource policies accordingly.
What Kind Of Awareness Could Help At The Workplace?
Employers need to take note of the following key responsibilities under the Act:
- Display penal consequences of sexual harassment
- Organize workshops and sensitization programs
- Formulate an internal policy/charter/resolution/declaration
- Form an Internal Complaints Committee where the number of employees is more than ten;
- Provide necessary facilities to the Committees
- Secure attendance of witnesses/respondent
- Monitor timely submission of Committee reports
- Assist the woman in pursuing a criminal case if she so chooses
- Maintain confidentiality of the inquiry process, and the Act lays down a penalty of Rupees 5,000 on the person who has breached confidentiality
- With sexual harassment being a crime, employers are obligated to report offenses.
Prohibition of Sexual Harassment at the Work Place
- Sexual harassment is defined to include unwelcome sexually determined behavior such as physical contact, request for sexual favors, sexually colored remarks, screening of pornography, or any other conduct of sexual nature.
- The ACT prohibits sexual harassment at the work place which may include promise of preferential treatment, threat of detrimental treatment, hostile work environment, or humiliating conduct constituting health and safety problems.
- The ACT defines a work place to include all organizations, and any place visited by an employee during the course of work. It covers every woman at the work place (whether employed or not) except a domestic worker working at home. It defines employer as the person responsible for the management, supervision and control of the work place.
Duties Of The Employer
- Offering a safe working environment
- Undertake workshops and training programs at regular intervals for sensitizing employees; providing assistance during an inquiry; and initiating action against the perpetrator.
- Every employer is required to constitute an ‘Internal Complaints Committee’ at all offices and branches with staff strength of 10 or more employees. Members of the committee shall include a senior woman employee, two or more employees and one member from an NGO committed to the cause of women.
- A ‘Local Complaints Committee’ is required to be constituted in every district. An additional ‘Local Complaints Committee’ shall also be constituted at the block level to address complaints in situations where the complainant does not have recourse to an Internal Complaints Committee or where the complaint is against the employer himself.
- The ‘Local Complaints Committee’, to be constituted by the District Officer, shall include an eminent woman as the Chairperson, a woman working in the area, two members from an NGO committed to the cause of women, and a Protection Officer appointed under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
- At least 50 percent of the nominated members in any Internal or Local Committee must be women.
How To Help In The Procedure for Filing Complaints & Initiating Inquiry
- An aggrieved woman may complain to the Internal Committee. In the absence of such a committee, she may file a complaint with the Local Committee. All complaints must be in writing. The complainant may also pursue other remedies, including filing a criminal complaint.
- If the allegation is proved, the Committee shall recommend penalties for sexual harassment as per service rules applicable or the Rules under the Act. In addition, it may provide for monetary compensation to the complainant.
- If the allegation is proved to be false or malicious, the Committee may recommend action against the complainant. However, action may not be taken against a complainant merely on the inability to substantiate a complaint or provide adequate proof.
- Appeals against the recommendations of either Committee shall lie with the courts.
- Penalties have also been prescribed for employers who fail to comply with the provisions of the Act. Non-compliance shall be punishable with a fine of up to Rs 50,000. Repeated violations may lead to higher penalties and cancellation of license or registration required for carrying on the business.
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