The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013
This Act is aimed at protecting women against sexual harassment at the workplace. It recommends measures to prevent sexual harassment at work and provides redress mechanisms for women. Enacted on April 22, 2013, this law follows the Vishaka Guidelines formulated by the Supreme Court of India in 1997 in cases of sexual harassment. These guidelines were superseded by this new law.The Act states that sexual harassment violates women’s fundamental rights to equality (Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution), to live with dignity (Article 21), and to practise any profession or carry out any occupation in a safe environment. It says that these rights are also internationally recognised under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which the government of India ratified on June 25, 1993.
What is sexual harassment at the workplace?
This law clarifies that sexual harassment is any of the following unwelcome actions:
· a gesture or physical contact
· a demand or a request for sexual favours
· making sexually coloured remarks
· showing pornography
· any other physical, verbal or non-verbal behaviour of a sexual nature
It is sexual harassment at the workplace if it occurs in conjunction with any of the following situations:
· an implied or an explicit promise of preferential or detrimental treatment to a woman employee
· an implied or explicit threat to a woman’s present or future employment status
· interference in a woman’s work or the creation of an intimidating, offensive or hostile work environment
· humiliating treatment that is likely to affect a woman’s health or safety
What can a woman do if she is sexually harassed at the workplace?
An ‘aggrieved woman’ can file a written complaint to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) set up by her employer to hear complaints of sexual harassment. If the ICC has not been formed, the woman can take her complaint to the Local Complaints Committee (LCC) set up by a district officer (the district magistrate/additional district magistrate or the collector/deputy collector). The LCC also hears complaints from women who allege that they have been harassed by their employers or work in unorganised sector enterprises.
The law specifies that the complaint must be filed within three months of the incident of sexual harassment. (On October 12, 2018, soon after the #MeToo movement started, Maneka Gandhi, the union minister of women and child development, announced that she would write to the Ministry of Law and Justice, asking it to consider complaints made 10-15 years later too.)
What are the powers of the ICC and the LCC?
The ICC or LCC can try to settle the matter through reconciliation (provided there is no monetary settlement). The ICC or LCC can also initiate an enquiry and function as a civil court – it can summon people, examine them under oath, and ask for certain documents. During the enquiry, the ICC or LCC can ask the employer to transfer the complainant or grant her a three-month leave or any other kind of relief.
Once the enquiry is complete, the ICC and the LCC must submit a report to the employer and the district officer, respectively. If the enquiry finds the allegation to be true, the ICC and the LCC can ask the employer and the district officer to take action against the person named in the complaint. It can also ask for a deduction from his salary or wages, which can be given to the complainant as compensation.
What if a ‘malicious’ or ‘false’ complaint is filed?
After conducting an enquiry, if the ICC or the LCC conclude that the allegation is ‘malicious’, ‘false’ or the ‘aggrieved woman’/person filing the complaint has provided a forged or misleading document, the employer or the district officer can take action against the complainant. The Act clarifies that “a mere inability to substantiate a complaint or provide adequate proof” of sexual harassment does not mean that a complaint is ‘malicious’ or ‘false’.
What are the duties of an employer?
Every employer has the following duties:
· to provide a work environment free of sexual harassment
· to display prominently at the workplace the penal consequences of sexual harassment and the notice about the ICC’s formation
· to organise for employees workshops and awareness programmes about this Act
· to conduct orientation programmes for ICC members
· to provide facilities to the ICC or the LCC to conduct an enquiry
· to ensure the attendance of the person named in the complaint and witnesses before the ICC or the LCC
· to assist the woman if she wishes to file a complaint about the offence under the Indian Penal Code and to help her initiate action under the IPC against the perpetrator
Focus and Factoids by Subuhi Jiwani.
Ministry of Law and Justice
Government of India, New Delhi
22 Apr, 2013