Laws that are in place to make our workplaces safe for women. Vishaka guidelines, promulgated by the Supreme Court, were in place since 1997. This was superseded in December 2013, when the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, or POSH Act, was passed. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, was also passed and Section 354 was added to the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This defines sexual harassment and the penalties for the offence. Additionally, with sexual harassment being a crime, employers are obligated to report offences.
ONUS ON EMPLOYER TO CREATE A SAFE WORKPLACE
- Rules on prohibition of sexual harassment should be notified, published and circulated in appropriate ways
- There should be appropriate penalties for violation.
WHAT AMOUNTS TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT THE WORKPLACE?
Unwelcome, sexually determined behaviour, whether directly or by implication:
- Physical contact and 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
HOW DO EMPLOYERS GO ABOUT THE INQUIRY
All workplaces with 10 employees or more are required to constitute an internal committee to probe an allegation. The committee will have to be constituted at all units or offices of a company.
The committee should have a minimum or four members and half of them have to be women. The presiding officer will have to be a senior-level woman work. The committee should also have an external member from an NGO working on women’s rights or a related area.
Workplaces with less than 10 employees need not form an internal committee and all complaints will go to the local complaints committee set up as per Act by district officers in each district.
- The rules say that workers should be allowed to raise issues of sexual harassment at staff meetings and other appropriate fora and it should be affirmatively discussed in meetings with the employer.
- Awareness of the rights of women employees should be created by prominently notifying the guidelines
- Company should ensure that victims or witnesses are not discriminated against and that victims have the option to seek transfer of the perpetrator or their own transfer.
OUTSIDE OFFICE CAN ALSO BE WORKPLACE
Apart from office, any place visited by an employee during the course of employment, including transportation provided by employer for the visit, is covered under the Act. If harassment takes place during a lunch meeting at a restaurant, it will also be covered.
AND THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO VIOLATORS
- Inappropriately touching a woman
- 1 – 5 years’ jail and fine under Criminal Law Act, 2013.
- Observing, capturing distributing images of a woman without her knowledge
- 1 – 7 years’ jail and fine under Information Technology Act, 2000.
- Using words, gestures to outrage a woman’s modesty
- 3 years’ jail and fine under Criminal Law Act, 2013.
- Consensual sex with a subordinate
- 5 – 10 years’ jail and fine under Criminal Law Act, 2013.