Today, men and women both are working in offices, factories and commercial establishments. Those days are now gone when women were confined to their houses and their number was less when it comes to working in places other than their houses.
As more and more women are employed more and more cases of women harassment are noticed. Here we will like to mention that before the enactment of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, redressal) Act, 2013; any misconduct regarding women used to fall under administrative action was taken by the administrative department of the organization.
The problem was that for an instance a woman is teased, harassed or molested by a coworker, she would be put to further embarrassment joining the departmental inquiry and cross- examined by the person who has committed misconduct. Therefore to avoid this kind of situation The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, redressal) Act, 2013 has been enacted and dedicated committee is constituted or empowered to deal with such cases.
Sexual harassment results in violation of the fundamental rights of woman to equality under article 14 and 15 and the right of a woman to live with dignity as mentioned in article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Government of India has enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. It is in addition to Vishaka Guidelines issued by the SC in 1997. The act includes all working women from private and public sectors.
The act provides a civil remedy to a woman and is in addition to other laws that are currently in force. Any women who wishes to report instances of sexual harassment at workplace has the right to take recourse of both civil and criminal proceedings,
Section 3(1) of The Sexual Harassment of women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 says that No women shall be subjected to sexual harassment at any workplace. This section provides the insights of behaviours through which a woman can experience possible professional and personal harm.
An aggrieved woman can file a written complaint to ICC/LCC from three months from the date of the incident and in case of series of such incidents within three months from the last such incident. However, any delay in filing the complaint can be condoned by the committee upto further three months.
The ICC will consist of the following members-
1. Chairperson Women working at senior level as employee; if not available then nominated from other office/units/ department/ workplace of the same employer
2. Members (minimum) From amongst employees committed to the cause of women/ having legal knowledge/experience in social work
3. Member From amongst NGO/associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issue of Sexual Harassment
The LCC will consist of the following members-
1. Chairperson Nominated from amongst the eminent women in the field of social work and committed to the cause of women
2. Member Nominated from amongst the women working in the block, taluka or tehsil or ward or municipality in the district
3. 2 Members Nominated from amongst such NGO/associations/persons committed to the cause of women or familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment, provided that: • At least one must be a woman • At least one must have a background of law or legal knowledge
4. Ex Officio member The concerned officer dealing with social welfare or women and child development in the district
“…the time has come when women must be able to feel liberated and emancipated from what could be fundamentally oppressive conditions against which an autonomous choice of freedom can be exercised and made available by women. This is sexual autonomy in the fullest degree”- Late Chief Justice J.S. Verma, Justice Verma Committee Report, 2013
Sexual Harassment includes anyone or more unwanted or unwelcomed acts or behaviour whether directly and indirectly for eg- Physical contact or advances; A demand or request for sexual favours; Making sexually coloured remarks; Showing pornography; Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
These harassments have a negative impact on women resulting in depression, decreased work performance, anxiety, panic attacks, traumatic stress, increased absenteeism, loss of promotional opportunities, sleepiness etc.
Employers/District Officers are responsible for complying with prohibition, prevention and redress of workplace sexual harassment. In practice, this means having a policy that:
- Prohibits unwelcome behaviour that constitutes workplace sexual harassment.
- Champions prevention of workplace sexual harassment through orientation, awareness and sensitization sessions.
- Provides a detailed framework for redress.
An employer can be subjected to a penalty of up to INR 50,000 for:
Failure to constitute Internal Complaints Committee
Failure to act upon recommendations of the Complaints Committee; or
Failure to file an annual report to the District Officer where required; or
Contravening or attempting to contravene or abetting contravention of the Act or Rules.
Where an employer repeats a breach under the Act, they shall be subject to:
Twice the punishment or higher punishment if prescribed under any other law for the same offence.
Cancellation/Withdrawal/Non-renewal of registration/license required for carrying on business or activities.
CONCLUSION OF THE SUBSTANCE
As mentioned above before the enactment of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, redressal) Act, 2013, any complaint falling under misconduct used to follow the administrative procedure, which is as follows:
1. Charge sheet
2. Appointing of an inquiry officer
3. Conducting an inquiry
4. Submission of inquiry report to the management
Now the difference is this that the complaint filed by a woman against any harassment or misconduct committed against her by the co- employee will go before:
Which will examine the complaint and conduct an inquiry in a similar manner as it used to be conducted by the inquiry officer before the enactment of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, redressal) Act, 2013.
And the report will be submitted by the ICC to the management and by the LCC to the administrative head which may be a District Magistrate and Deputy Collector as the case may be.
Constitution note of the committee has been mentioned in section 4 and section 6 of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, redressal) Act, 2013. And both will hold their positions not exceeding 3 years from the date of nomination or appointment.
– Purti Sharma
Associate advocate/Legal coordinator
ASC Solicitors and Advocates