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5 things every woman must know about sexual harassment at the workplace

Aditya Shrivastava
16th Feb 2018
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Sexual harassment exists in almost every sector and industry. The only way to combat it is by increasing awareness and knowledge.

Sexual Harassment is one issue that has probably plagued every institution, big or small. Unfortunately, it still remains one of the most unreported offences of all times. Although, campaigns like #MeToo acted as an eye-opener, sexual harassment at the workplace still remains behind the closed doors of glass cabins.

As per a recent survey with around 6,074 participants (both male and female) conducted by Indian National Bar Association, around 38 percent respondents confessed to being sexually harassed at the workplace. The same report reveals that around 69 percent respondents decided against complaining to the management. In a shocking state of affairs, 65 percent of the participants revealed that most of the companies did not follow the procedure prescribed under Sexual Harassment (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (‘the Act’).

In most cases, women tend to not report such instances because either they are scared of the system or the position the harasser holds in the organisation. Most of them, due to lack of training, are unaware of what remedies are available.

Here are 5 absolute essentials you must know about sexual harassment at the workplace:

1. You are covered under the act if you are an employee (part-time, full-time or an intern)

The Act is designed to recognise and provide for every woman access to the safe and secure work environment as a matter of right. It has been diligently ensured that each woman gets this right, irrespective of her age, employment or work status.

Thus, a woman who is either working or visiting any workplace on a regular, temporary, ad-hoc or daily wage basis, is covered under the Act. In fact, the definition of “aggrieved woman” as per Section 2(a)(i) states that in relation to a workplace, an aggrieved woman would mean a woman “whether employed or not” who alleges to have been subjected to harassment. This has expanded the horizon to all women whether engaged directly or indirectly or through an agent, including a contractor, a visiting client. or even an intern, with or without the knowledge of a principal employer. It does not matter if the woman is working at a dwelling place; she is also covered under the Act.

In short, a woman associated with any organisation, firm, NGO or even a dwelling is entitled to be protected under the Act. However, the formation of the Internal Complaints Committee is subject to the number of employees (irrespective of gender). There have to be at least 10 employees in the company or a branch of the company for the formation of the Internal Complaints Committee.

2. Recognizing sexual harassment

In most of the cases, harassment occurs in the most unexpected way. It starts with moves that appear to be innocent but ends up in unprofessional and inappropriate behaviour. As a key pointer, you need to understand that anything that appears to be sexual, unpleasant and inappropriate, which may or may not be within your tolerance limits, amounts to sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment at the workplace can include any of the following instances:

  • Physical contact or advances
  • A demand or request for sexual favours
  • Sexually coloured remarks
  • Showing pornography
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

Any of these instances or the following behaviours, on the pretext of above-mentioned instances, would also amount to sexual harassment :

(i) the implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in your employment; or

(ii) implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in your employment; or

(iii) implied or explicit threat about your present or future employment status; or

(iv) interference with your work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for you; or

(v) humiliating treatment likely to affect your health or safety.

This means, at any point of time, if you or anyone you know is being coerced into providing unsolicited favours, you should ensure that strict action is taken against that person.

3. When and where to complain?

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In case of an incident of sexual harassment, you are required to complain, in writing, to the Internal Committee or - in its absence - to the Local Committee in your area.

A complaint can be filed within three months from the date of offence being committed. In case there has been a series of such instances, then, within three months of the last time such offence was committed. In case of unavoidable circumstances, if you have not been able to lodge a complaint, the ICC and the Local Committee have been empowered to extend the time limit for another three months, in writing. However, it is advisable to ensure that the complaint is filed as soon as such an instance takes place.

Moreover, it is also mandated by the Act, that if the complaint cannot be filed in writing, it is imperative for the committee or the Presiding Officer to provide all the required assistance to ensure the complaint is written and duly filed. In case the aggrieved woman cannot register the complaint due to physical/mental incapacity, or death, her legal heir or any such person can also lodge a complaint under the provisions of the Act.

4. You can request for leave or transfer to a different branch

When you file a complaint, your Internal Committee is required to make a quick inquiry into the matter as per the procedure mentioned in your company’s sexual harassment policy. However, in case the Internal Committee does not exist or it is a case of domestic help, the Local Committee will forward the complaint to the police within seven days from the registration of complaint.

However, under such circumstances it is very likely that you might not want to go to work and face the same people. To avoid such issues you can claim relief under Section 12 of the Act. On a written request to the Internal Committee, you can ask them to direct your employer to:

(a) seek yours or the respondent’s transfer to any other branch; or

(b) grant you leave up to a period of three months; or

(c) grant such other relief to you as may be prescribed under the Act.

The leave granted to you under the Act shall be in addition to the leave you would be otherwise entitled to.

5 The Internal Committee Can Recommend Deduction Of Salary Of The Accused (If Offence Is Proved)

It is beyond anyone’s comprehension to understand the agony of a woman during this rigmarole. To even compensate for it is out of the question. However, the Act tries to make a certain attempt at providing compensation to the aggrieved person. The Act provides for deducting compensation from the salary of the respondent in case the offence is proved. In case the salary of the respondent is not sufficient, then he is made liable to pay on his own account. In absence of that, the Internal Committee has the authority to send the order to the district officer to recover the amount as arrears of land revenue.

You can seek the determination of compensation for the following:

(a) the mental trauma, pain, suffering and emotional distress caused;

(b) the loss in the career opportunity due to the incident;

(c) medical expenses incurred by you for physical or psychiatric treatment;

(d) the income and financial status of the respondent; and

(e) feasibility of such payment in lump sum or in instalments.

Sexual harassment needs to be dealt with in a tough manner. Devika Singh, an associate with Clasis Law, who has worked on innumerable cases, says, “Sexual harassment exists and is often silenced for the lack of awareness. The only way to combat it is through awareness, through knowledge, and through taking up courses that tell everyone what should be done in the hour of need.”

We, at iPleaders, with a mission to eradicate sexual harassment at the workplace and make the workplace a safe place for women, have launched our Online Executive Certification Course on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Workplace Diversity. This course is designed to ensure that sexual harassment compliances are duly taken care of and awareness is spread amongst every employee in the organisation. We welcome you to join us in this mission.

Towards, a safer workplace, a safer India.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.) 

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