Implications of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), Act 2013 was passed by the Indian Parliament in December 2013 with the objective to create a safe working environment for women and to nurture the growth of a holistic work ecosystem.
Even before the passage of the Act, many companies in India were assiduously pursuing gender diversity and inclusivity at the workplace. As increasing number of women join the workforce, companies are well aware of the need of creating a safe and comfortable environment that encourages growth and development.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), Act 2013 is modeled on the Vishakha Guidelines which have served as the case law to curb instances of sexual harassment at the workplace since 1997.
The following is a brief on the compliance requirements enshrined under the Act: Constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC): Every employer of a workplace employing more than 10 employees is required to establish an ICC at each location and provide necessary facilities to the Committee for dealing with a complaint and conduct an inquiry. The members of ICC, to be nominated by the employer would include : (a) Presiding Officer who shall be a woman employed at a senior level, (b) not less than two members from amongst employees preferably committed to the cause of women and (c) one member from nongovernmental organisations. At least one half of the total Members so nominated need to be women. Assist in securing the attendance of respondent and witnesses' before the ICC, make available such information as may be required and also provide assistance to the aggrieved woman if she so chooses to file a complaint in relation to the offense under the Indian Penal Code or any other law. Display the penal consequences of sexual harassment at the workplace. Formulate and widely disseminate an internal policy/ charter/resolution/declaration for prohibition, prevention and redressal of sexual harassment at the workplace. It is imperative to declare the names and contact details of members of an ICC. Organize and hold orientation programs and seminars, and conduct capacity-and skill building programs for ICC members Organize sensitization and awareness programmes for employees: In order to effectively implement antisexual harassment policies at the workplace, online and offline training should be imparted to existing employees and new joinees. Investigate complaints and take strict action against the perpetrators in the prescribed timelines. Treat sexual harassment as “misconduct” under service rules/processes. Initiate action for such misconduct Submit Annual report to the prescribed Government authority. In order to implement the regulations in 'spirit', attention should be paid to the following There are times when the ICC may have to handle sensitive cases which organizations would not want to report to law enforcement agencies to protect their public image. ICCs have been given the authority to handle such cases internally; and they may take advantage of the reconciliation provisions in the Act before initiating inquiries at the request of aggrieved women employees and take effective steps to settle the matter. There is a need for committee members to receive practical and realistic training through hands-on approach so that they can conduct inquiries in a fair and just manner. Analyzing different points of view and taking into account all forms of evidence available is important before deciding whether a complaint is malicious or genuine. Corporate workplaces have become increasingly informal over time and it is common for employees to travel for meetings and conferences and socialize beyond work hours. In such scenarios, it becomes imperative for employers to ensure that individuals maintain proper decorum around their co-workers which could be achieved by driving a company's stance on such matters so that the employees can understand its core values. In instances where the Internal Complaints Committee has not been constituted due to having less than 10 workers; or if the complaint is against the employer himself, the complaints could be registered with the 'Local Complaints Committee' which every District Officer shall constitute in the district concerned. References:
1. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), Act 2013 2. EY Report on 'Reining in sexual harassment at the workplace in India'