With developments in education, employment, and the industrial sector, an increasing number of women are entering the country’s workforce today. The 21st-century world has evolved the roles of women and made great progress towards achieving gender equality in comparison to the older and conservative times. They have emerged as significant leaders and successful and diligent workers. But unfortunately, women are unsafe and are subjugated to sexual harassment at the workplace which has a major impact on their mental as well as physical health and which also hinders their performance. According to the latest statistic, a large percentage of 54%-81% of women experience sexual harassment at their workplace and 58%-72% of victims do not even report the wrongdoings of workplace sexual harassment due to fear of retribution or feeling like it would not be taken seriously by supervisors. In addition, a lack of understanding of one’s rights and the redressal process may also be a factor in the decision not to report. Women have a legal right to a safe workplace, which is acknowledged in the Indian Constitution and to be protected from being subjected to any form of discrimination, to enjoy life and personal freedom to the fullest.
What is Sexual harassment?
The sexual harassment of women in the workplace violates their dignity, self-respect as well as fundamental constitutional rights. Sexual harassment is defined as an unwanted sexually determined activity, which can involve physical contact, demands for sexual favours, the display of pornography, and other verbal or nonverbal behaviours. To combat these practices and protect women, the Parliament passed the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 (the “PoSH Act”) in 2013. This act deals with the Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal of sexual harassment in any institution.
Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act 2013 (PoSH Act,2013)
In 1992, a social worker named Bhanwari Devi who was appointed with the Women’s Development project of the Rajasthan government was brutally gang raped by five men while she was trying to anticipate child marriage in that area. Whilst the absence of law relating to sexual harassment of women in the workplace Supreme Court laid down some guidelines in 1997, numerous women’s rights activists and attorneys had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the Supreme Court of India under the name of Vishakha. The Vishakha Guidelines were developed in response to a petition brought by Vishakha and four other Rajasthan-based women’s organizations against the state of Rajasthan and the Union of India. It was seen as a big stepping stone in legal success for women’s organizations in India. Consequently, sexual harassment was recognized in India in 1997, and the action was the product of a collaborative effort by non-governmental organizations, feminists, and attorneys. All the organizations were bound to meet three obligations: – Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal.
Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act 2013 (PoSH Act, 2013) provides guidelines and procedures for a safe and secure working environment with proper implementations of PoSH policy. Under this PoSH Act, every organization is required to set up an Internal complaint committee (ICC) to investigate and keep a check on activities relating to sexual harassment of women at the workplace. It also requires employers to create awareness and training programs on sexual harassment for all employees so that they get educated and can communicate for redressal of complaints regarding any sexual harassment they face while working. The ICC also lays down the procedure for the investigation and resolution of complaints and protects women who file complaints from further retaliation and harassment.
Procedure for Complaints and Punishments
Constituting a PoSH policy at work provides a definite mechanism to address complaints of the aggrieved. It states the consequences and punishments given to the wrongdoers and safeguards women’s interests.
The complaint files should be handwritten, mailed, or typed only, along with the names of the complainant and the respondent. The important thing to be kept in mind is that the complaint should be filed within a period of 3 months from the date of the last incident of sexual harassment and in some cases, this time can be extended with justification given to the committee.
Once the investigation and inquiry have been completed and the allegations are proven to be true then the ICC advances actions or punishments that can be termination, stopping from increments or promotions, warning, suspension, providing compensation for the psychological or physical loss, loss of career opportunities, employee’s pain and sufferings, etc.
Every organization should abide by the regulations and directions laid by the judgment of the Supreme Court under the PoSH Act, to safeguard women who are working to earn their living and ensure them a safe working environment.
“If the authorities/managements/employers cannot assure them a safe and secure workplace, they will fear stepping out of their homes to make a dignified living and exploit their talent and skills to the hilt,” Justice Kohli wrote in the judgment.
Applicability of this Act will only be valid when employers protect the interest of their female workers by addressing their complaints timely and providing them redressal. The ICC should take measures to ensure a sexual harassment-free work environment for every employee.
Associate Intern at Aggarwals & Associates, Mohali