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Sexual Harassment at Workplace – Rules & Regulations

Sexual Harassment at Workplace – Rules & Regulations

The #MeToo movement has gathered momentum across the world with many celebrities coming out about sexual misconduct by men in the workplace. With women constituting about half of the global population, it’s important to ensure they have safeguards for protecting their rights and status at workplaces. In this direction, the Government of India has implemented the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. In this article, we look at the rules and regulations that prevent sexual harassment at the workplace in detail.

What is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

According to the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, any of the following circumstances, if it occurs or is present with or connected with any act or behaviour of sexual harassment may amount to sexual harassment:

  1. Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment.
  2. The implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in her employment.
  3. Interferes with her work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her.
  4. Humiliating treatment is likely to affect her health or safety.

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexually determined behaviour such as:

  • Physical contact.
  • Demand or request for sexual favours.
  • Sexually coloured remarks.
  • Showing pornography.
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

Duties and Responsibilities of Employers

Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, all employers have the following duties and responsibilities:

  1. Provide a safe working environment at the workplace including safety from the persons coming into contact at the workplace;
  2. Display at any conspicuous place in the workplace, the penal consequences of sexual harassments. Under sub-section (1) of section 4 of the Act, every employer of a workplace should by an order in writing, constitute an “Internal Complaints Committee”: Provided that where the offices or administrative units of the workplace are located at different places or divisional or sub-divisional level, the Internal Committee shall be constituted at all administrative units or offices;
  3. Organize workshops and awareness programmes at regular intervals for sensitizing the employees with the provisions of the Act;
  4. Organize orientation programmes for the members of the Internal Committee in the prescribed manner;
  5. Provide necessary facilities to the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, for dealing with the complaint and conducting an enquiry;
  6. Assist in securing the attendance of respondent and witnesses before the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be;
  7. Make available such information to the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, as it may require having regard to the complaint made under sub-section (1) of section 9;
  8. Assist the woman if she so chooses to file a complaint about the offence under the Indian Penal Code or any other law for the time being in force;
  9. Cause to initiate action, under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 or any other law for the time being in force, against the perpetrator, or if the aggrieved woman so desires, where the perpetrator is not an employee, in the workplace at which the incident of sexual harassment took place;
  10. Treat sexual harassment as a misconduct under the service rules and initiate action for such misconduct;
  11. Monitor the timely submission of reports by the Internal Committee.

Formation of Internal Complaint Committee

Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, all employers are required to constitute an Internal Complaint Committee at a workplace by an order in writing. In case the employer has multiple branches or factories or offices, an Internal Committee must be constituted at all administrative units or offices.

The Internal Committee must consist of the following members, nominated by the employer:

  • A Presiding Officer who shall be a woman employed at a senior level at the workplace from amongst the employees.
  • Not less than two Members from amongst employees preferably committed to the cause of women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge.
  • One member from amongst non-governmental organizations or associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment.

The Internal Complaint Committee must have at least one-half of the total Members as women at all times. The Presiding Officer and every Member of the Internal Committee can hold office for a period not exceeding three years, from the date of their nomination.

Powers of Internal Complaint Committee

An Internal Complaint Committee constituted under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 will have the same powers as vested in a Civil Court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 when trying a suit in respect of the following matters:

  1. Summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person and examining him on oath.
  2. Requiring the discovery and production of documents.
  3. Any other matter which may be prescribed.

The Internal Complaint Committee could recommend to the employer the following actions:

  1. Grant such other relief to the aggrieved woman as may be prescribed.
  2. Transfer the aggrieved woman or the respondent to any other workplace.
  3. Grant leave to the aggrieved woman up to three months.

Procedure for Filing Compliant

The aggrieved woman must make a complaint on sexual harassment at the workplace within three months from the date of occurrence of an incident. In case of a series of an incident, within three months from the date of the last incident.

The complaint must be made in writing and submitted to the Internal Complaint Committee and be sent either by post or given in person. The Internal Complaint Committee also has the powers to extend the time-limit for reporting by not more than three months, if it is satisfied that the circumstances were such which prevented the employee from filing a complaint within the three months.

If an aggrieved woman is unable to make a written complaint by herself on account of her physical incapacity, a complaint can be filed by:

  • Her relative or friend.
  • Her co-worker.
  • An officer of the National Commission for Women or State Women’s Commission.
  • Any person who knows about the incident, with the written consent of the aggrieved woman.

If an aggrieved woman is unable to make a written complaint by herself on account of her mental incapacity, a complaint can be filed by:

  • Her relative or friend.
  • A special educator.
  • A qualified psychiatrist or psychologist.
  • The guardian or authority under whose care she is receiving treatment or care.
  • Any person who knows about the incident jointly with her relative or friend or special education or qualified psychiatrist or psychologist or guardian or authority under whose care she is receiving treatment or care.

Finally, if an aggrieved woman is unable to make a written complaint by herself on account of her mental incapacity or physical incapacity or death, a complaint can be filed by her legal heir.

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