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Sexual harassment at workplace: do’s & don’ts | Know about law relating to sexual harassment at workplace


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Most working women have forever faced issues with sexual harassment. In spite of being victims they are not able to fight for justice. Read what is the laws against sexual harassment.

Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013

India being a patriarchal society is trying very hard to remove the bias against women; by educating them and seeing them step out of homes and fulfil duties as an earning member in their own right. But in all this advancement, the question remains if women in India are safe in the workplace? Is she an entity, a being, or just a commodity to be used in the eyes of the men who are working alongside her?

Contrary to popular belief, most working women have faced issues with sexual harassment at their workplace. It is just that now more women are coming forward and reporting incidents of sexual harassment, for they refuse to take such treatment without giving a fight.

What is Sexual Harassment? What is the Law?

What is sexual harassment at the workplace? Well, it does not just include a creepy man forcing himself on a helpless working woman. There are many others ways that men find to subtly harass a woman sexually just because they get an adrenalin kick out of it.

Here are a few ways and means in which men harass women, but the instances largely remain unreported for the women have no idea as to how to deal with the situation:

  • Showing pornographic pictures on the computer, or phone, either with intent, or as if by accident.
  • Using suggestive language and saying inappropriate things.
  • Staring at the chest while speaking.
  • Touching the back, shoulder or knees without any reason or permission.
  • Stalking on any of the social platforms.
  • Any rumours/ talk at workplace with sexually coloured remarks about a working woman, or spreading rumours about a woman’s sexual relationship with anybody.
  • Calling on the pretext of work and taking the conversation to a zone which is extremely uncomfortable for the woman.
  • Humming, or singing provocative, sexually explicit songs every time the woman concerned is in the vicinity.

The perverts are, unfortunately, very imaginative in their skills at harassing women sexually. However, all such acts that compromise the position of a working woman are illegal under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013. The Act clearly states the following:

  • It is mandatory for any company, or organisation having more than ten employees to have a sexual harassment committee called the Vishakha Committee.
  • The committee should comprise two, or three people from the said organisation and two people from outside, so that it’s balanced and independent.
  • The sole job of the committee is to investigate cases of sexual harassment in the workplace and list appropriate actions for the employer.
  • Workplace is not just the four walls of a physical office space, but any ‘place of work’. An out-of-office meeting, online conversations as a freelancer, ‘casual’ meeting in a cafe, or even an interview in a company where you are not employed yet—you’re entitled for protection against sexual harassment under the Act.
  • It’s the employer’s duty to make available the names of the chairperson and committee members.

What To Do in Case You Are Being Sexually Harassed

The laws are in place to protect the women. It is time to say ‘No’ to the furtive glances and inappropriate touching and sometimes even outright sexual favours demanded in lieu of work.

  • Speak up. Say ‘No’. Walk away from any man who makes you feel uncomfortable.
  • Convey that you are uncomfortable with any such advances by a colleague, which establishes a line of misconduct.
  • Keep your friends informed.
  • Collect evidence.
  • Avoid being alone with the harasser.
  • Do not accept explanations from the HR saying that this was the first offence. Remember, an offence is an offence.
  • Approach the Sexual Harassment Committee at the earliest.
  • Give a written complaint asking for a confirmation, which cannot be ignored.
  • Do not worry about colleagues accusing you of slander and shaming you. Remember, you are fighting for your self esteem.
  • Never think that what has happened was because of some fault of yours. It is the fault of the man who is sexually harassing you, and NEVER yours.
  • In extreme cases, counselling and therapy is advised.
  • In case this is happening with someone you know, take a stand along with them and help them.
  • Sharing the experience on social media is not enough. A proper official complaint has to be made.

Sexual Harassment Cases in India

While there are innumerable sexual harassment cases registered in India, a survey conducted by the Indian National Bar Association (INBA) found that of the 6,047 participants (both male and female), 38% said they’d faced harassment at the workplace.

Of these, 69% did not complain about it. Here are a few of the famous sexual harassment cases:

  • In 2002, Phaneesh Murthy, a director with Infosys was accused of sexual harassment by his secretary Reka Maximovitch. They reached an out-of-court settlement at US$3 million. Murthy was again accused of the same crime in his next stint as CEO and president of iGate. He was removed by the company from his position.
  • In 2012, an employee working at a restaurant at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, filed a case against a senior Air India official, accusing him of sexually harassing her by showing her porn clips and making physical advances. The woman alleged that the Assistant General Manager at Air India ignored her complaint.
  • Wipro was dragged to court by Shreya Ukil in 2015, when she alleged that she was being discriminated against when it came to increment of salary and that her manager forced her to have an affair with him. In the GBP1.2-million lawsuit filed in London, Wipro won the case when UK Employment Tribunal upheld the dismissal of the complainant from the services of the organisation as appropriate and rejected claims of adverse cultural attitude towards women in the organisation.
  • In the most recent case of sexual harassment, a former employee alleged rampant sexual harassment by the CEO Arunabh Kumar of the the Viral Fever (TVF). The complaint was made anonymously on social media and several other TVF employees came out in support, recounting their own incidents of molestation. The CEO, blatantly wielding his position of power in his unapologetic comment to the Mumbai Mirror, said, “The kind of insinuations the FB post makes are untrue. I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she’s sexy. I compliment women. Is that wrong? Having said that, I am very particular about my behaviour – I will approach a woman, but never force myself.”

Unfortunately for the working women, while the laws against sexual harassment are very much in place, the wheels of justice take their own time in churning out the right judgement.

Here are some quick do’s and don’ts for businesses to bear in mind as they take steps towards a harassment-free workplace:

Do:

  • Take sexual harassment seriously! This sets the tone for rolling out a zero tolerance policy and creating a positive work environment. And this better flow from the top.
  • Put in place an anti-sexual harassment policy in line with the Act, considering the specific requirements of your business.
  • Follow due process (Set up an Internal Complaints Committee (“ICC”) to deal with complaints, investigate complaints in a fair manner and recommend disciplinary action accordingly).
  • Provide periodic awareness sessions for employee sensitization, besides training the ICC members.
  • Treat all such matters with utmost confidentiality respecting the privacy of the concerned parties.
  • Assist the complainant if she decides to file a criminal complaint against the accused.

Don’t:

  • Do not ignore complaints of employees.
  • Trivialise/ignore/hush up the complaint. It’s the complainant’s prerogative to draw the line at what she perceives as welcome or unwelcome conduct!
  • Retaliate or threaten the complainant with adverse consequences.
  • Sack the accused rightaway! (Or still worse, sack the complainant).

More than 90% of women and girls experience sexual harassment. Commonly known as “eve-teasing”, sexual harassment is not as minor as the word “teasing” may sound. Unwanted comments and songs, leering and whistling, kissing noises, vulgar gestures, unwanted touching, stalking, flashing, demanding sexual favours, or showing pornography against one’s will all constitute as instances of sexual harassment.

There is a flip side, too, to the entire scenario of sexual harassment cases. While some women misconstrue a general show of friendship as sexual harassment, many also manipulate men making advances, putting the genuine contenders for justice in a very compromising position. In spite of being victims, as a result, they are not able to fight for justice.

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