Sexual harassment at workplace and Internal Complaint Committee
Sexual harassment at workplace is rife – and it is affecting men as well as women, according to a shocking new report by the Everyday Sexism Project. It’s time to stop blaming the victims and start taking the issue seriously.
Sexual harassment at the workplace, which India’s criminal laws often group with street harassment, is nevertheless a distinct category of gender violence. It is defined by its occurrence in a ‘workplace’, or any physical or virtual space where individuals are employed to work, either formally or informally, with or without remuneration. Under the newly passed Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, the ‘workplace’ can include any public or private sector organisation; a ‘dwelling place or house’ where individuals may be employed as domestic workers; the unorganised sector; or any place that an employee may visit as part of her job, including the transportation that her employer may provide for this purpose.
Workplace sexual harassment, as defined by the new law, refers to any unwelcome sexual behaviour, either directly or by implication, and includes physical contact and advances; a demand or request for sexual favours; making sexually coloured remarks; showing pornography; or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
According to The Supreme Court definition, sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, such as:-
- Physical contact
- A demand or request for sexual favours
- Sexually coloured remarks
- Showing pornography
- Any other physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
Circumstances Considered as Sexual Harassment
- Implied/explicit promise of preferential treatment in employment
- Implied/explicit threat of detrimental treatment in employment
- Implied/explicit threat about present or future employment status
- Interference with work or creating an intimidating/hostile environment
- Humiliating treatment, likely to affect health or safety
Internal Complaints Committee
- Mandatory for establishments employing 10 or more employees
- ICC to be appointed by an order in writing
- At least ½ of the membership of the ICC to be women
- ICC to prepare and submit an annual report to the employer and the District Officer
The Act requires all workplaces to set up an Internal Complaints Committees to address the issue of sexual harassment. There will also be a Local Complaints Committee for each District where complaints can be filed.
An aggrieved woman can file a complaint within 3 months of the incident (or later if allowed by the committee).
The Act provides the option of a settlement between the aggrieved woman and the responded through conciliation but only on the request of the woman. However, money compensation cannot be a basis for the settlement.
The inquiry has to be completed within 90 days.
In case of malicious complaints or false evidence, the Committee may take action against the woman/person. However, simply not being able to prove an allegation will not mean that it is a false/malicious complaint.
The identity of the aggrieved woman, respondent, witnesses as well as other details of the complaint cannot be published or disclosed to the public/media.
The Act also hopes to prevent such incidents by placing a duty on employers to hold regular workshops/awareness programmes as well as, display the consequences of harassment in the workplace. Every employer has a duty to provide a safe working environment to all employees.
Suraksha Setu urges you to keep your eyes and ears open. If you are experiencing or anticipating any kind of sexual harassment at your workplace in any form, as mentioned above, speak up against it. Share it with the Internal Complaint Committee. Have faith in the system and be the one to courageously express the issue. Cooperate and help the ICC to make your workplace a place of dignity for women, a place where competency and leadership are valued.