Sexual Harassment at Work #womenfightback
Author : MyLegalWork Staff
India might have gained its independence almost 7 decades ago, but the women are still bound in shackles, one of which is sexual harassment. On paper, people propagate and talk about “Women Empowerment ”, “Equal Laws for Women ” and all the stuff that can get the attention but are they really following it?
We claim to be a progressive country and to an extent we believe it and pride ourselves in being one too. Women are climbing and crossing mountains, literally as well as metaphorically, because of their works and achievements. But do we know what a woman goes through to get there?
In a country of merely 27% female workforce in all sectors, even these handful of women aren’t safe in their workplaces. According to an IndiaSpend analysis, the number of women being sexually harassed at workplace has been steadily increasing since 2013 with the latest (2015) figures showing a staggering 51% increase in the number of reported cases of sexual harassment at workplace.
What is the solution to this stigma then?
Well, one way to curb and fight it, is to know about the laws and rights one has under such circumstances.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) released a Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women in Workplace which is available at the UGC website. The handbook deals with the duties and responsibilities of employers, institutions and organisations with regard to safety of women at their workplace.
Here are some highlights from these guidelines:
- The employer must build awareness among employees about the do’s and don’ts at workplace, what constitutes as sexual harassment and what to do if they see or are victims/survivors of such behaviour.
- The employer must follow a strict prevention and prohibition policy for sexual harassment at workplace.
- The employer is also responsible for a redressal policy if a complaint does arise. For this, it is mandatory for an employer to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in accordance with the guidelines. If any employer fails on this front, then they can be penalised by the courts for non-compliance. The Madras High Court ordered payment of 1.68 Crores in damages to the aggrieved party due to the non-constitution of the requisite committee. Every employer must constitute an ICC through a written order.
- The complaint must be made within 3 moonths of the last incident.
- The complaint can be made by a relative, a friend or a co-worker who has knowledge of the incident in case of physical or mental incapacity. In case the victim/survivor cannot make the complaint for any other reason, any person with knowledge of the incident can file the complaint with written consent of the victim/survivor.
- The complaint is the written statement of the victim/survivor. It must contain the details of each incident completely. This means that there must be a description of each incident, along with the date and time of such incident, the name of the perpetrator and the working relationship between the victim/survivor.
- If the complainant wishes, her identity can be kept a secret.
- The complainant can freely choose whether she wants a formal or an informal means of resolution. The ICC cannot pressure the complainant into directly resolving her grievances with the perpetrator.
- By informal method, we mean conciliation which includes counselling, educating or warning the perpetrator. By formal method, we mean an actual step-by-step process in which the ICC will conduct an inquiry.
- If found guilty, the perpetrator may be:
- his promotion/increment may be cancelled.
- made to pay compensation to the complainant.
- he may be terminated/expelled.
- The Inquiry must be completed within a period of 90 days from the receipt of the complaint.
- After the inquiry is completed and the report is made, such report must be submitted to the Institution within 10 days.
- If the victim/survivor is unsatisfied with the findings of the committee, then they can appeal to a court or tribunal within a period of 90 days.
- Please remember that for women in the unorganized sector, they need to approach the LCC (Local Complaints Committee) if they want to file a complaint of sexual harassment. Unorganized sector comprises of places which have less than 10 employees. Also, women can approach the LCC when the complaint is to be made against the employer himself.
For example: In the popular case of TVF, where the anonymous user Indian Fowler alleged sexual harassment against the founder Arunabh Kumar, her remedy lies against filing a complaint to the Local Complaints Committee. The reasoning behind this lies in the fact that the internal committee really won’t be all that unbiased when it’s the employer himself who is at fault and everyone’s job is at risk. It is not very uncommon that a company, rife with sexual harassment allegations, had to shut down operations. But what if the company isn’t an established one but a start-up which has close to zero loyalty where funds depend on investors? That would mean not only loss of business but even loss of earning and livelihood for many people.
Isn’t it sad that in a country where the goddesses Laxmi, Parvati and Saraswati, are worshipped, women with similar names are getting harassed under the pretext of work? It is time we spoke openly about it, and that will happen only when we know the law! Be aware about your rights and trust the legal system. After all, it has been made, remade, reframed and reformed for the protection of women, several times over. Shouldn't we use it to our benefit as best as we can then?
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