All You Need To Know About Addressing Sexual Harassment At Work

With the evolving work culture in India, it is not alien to see women at par with men in offices, working equally and full time. However, sexual harassment in the workplace is on the rise and women’s safety is a great concern.

In order to promote zero-tolerance against sexual harassment at workplace, it is highly important to understand what amounts to sexual harassment as well as redressals available under the law to prevent or deal with issues of workplace sexual harassment.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

In general, sexual harassment is the “behavioural execution of a defective, discriminating, imposing mentality to cause discomfort, shame, and insult.”

In an effort to enable a safe and inclusive workplace for women, the government introduced the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act in 2013. While any form of physical contact, as well as demanding sexual favours fall within the definition of sexual harassment, the Act has a much broader definition which also covers implied acts or behaviour apart from just explicit or direct ones. This can be in connection with preferential treatment of the woman in her employment or a threat of detrimental treatment. Humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety and interference with her work, or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her also come under the umbrella of sexual harassment at the workplace.

Confusing? The lack of clarity on what really constitutes sexual harassment can be troublesome both for female and male employees. Let’s simplify the definition into broad categories to understand what actually amounts to sexual harassment.

Quid Pro Quo – The Give And Take Relationship

Such a relationship essentially refers to providing something in return for something. It is commonly seen where a person at a senior position harasses someone in a junior position at work. It could be a senior level employee asking you to go out on a date or a late night movie. This sounds unfair when you deny the requests and are threatened with detrimental treatment or a poor report card in the future assessment. In can definitely be the other way round, with a senior asking for sexual favours in return for your promotion.

“No sir, I will not do what you’re asking me to!”

“Really? I’ll fire you if you say no.” or “Really? I’ll promote you tomorrow if you do so.”

Hostile Environment – No More Rumours, Gossips!

This generally goes unaddressed as people fail to recognize it as sexual harassment. Such a form of sexual harassment, however, leaves a negative impact on the work environment and makes it hostile. It is pertinent to note that a hostile environment at a workplace can also be due to the negative attitude of the people resulting in a negative work atmosphere. However, for being accounted as sexual harassment, there has to be an underlined sexual tone to it.

Imagine being at the same level as another woman employee and she gets her promotion whereas you’re still stuck at your position. Out of jealousy or immaturity, you may share it with a few friends and joke about her fast-paced growth linking it with the ‘relationship’ she shares with the boss. You, my friend, are liable for sexually harassing that colleague.

Sexual Acts, Behaviour Or Comments

Apart from the above two, there are other instances of sexual harassment where someone may comment about you in a sexually suggestive manner, perhaps about your attire or body. If some employees share sexually explicit, vulgar or obscene videos/jokes or pornography with you, better complain about the same. Any sort of physical touch which is unwanted and against your will is also included in the list.

Know The Laws That Protect And Empower You

1. Sexual harassment under the criminal law

As a result of the growing importance of creating a safe space for female employees, the Indian Penal Code was amended to criminalise acts of sexual harassment. It is punishable with imprisonment of up to three years, a fine or both.

If you ever face harassment, you can go to the nearest police state and file an FIR. No instance of sexual harassment can go unaddressed even if you file an FIR in the police station which does not fall in the appropriate jurisdiction. The complaint can also be filed online or by a call.

2. Internal Complaints Committee

Each workplace that has more than 10 employees is required to constitute an internal committee for the redressal of complaints related to sexual harassment at work.

You can file a written complaint to the committee within three months of an incident. Any personal details given in the written complaint would be protected from public view, you can also file it anonymously.

Also, if you’re working in an organisation which has less than 10 employees or is unorganised, then you can head to the local complaint committee of the district to file your complaint.

3. Proceedings

The internal committee will provide you with all the assistance needed and a chance to solve the matter amicably through conciliation (informal settlement between the parties).

Otherwise, an inquiry would be initiated in matters involving sexual harassment allegations. If the committee believes that sexual harassment exists on the face of it, it shall then submit its finding to the police station.

You, as an aggrieved woman, are entitled to intermediary relief while the inquiry is pending.  Just give it in writing to the ICC for your transfer or the harasser’s transfer to any other workplace, or leave for a period of three months in addition to the leave already available.

4. Online options for complaining

Feeling shy? Not happy with your best friend – ICC or don’t wish to head straight to the police? File online complaints by the following methods:

She-Box: It is an online portal created by the Ministry of Women and Child Development where complaints can be filed directly to the ministry. The complaints made here can be checked for updates to ascertain the status.

National Commission for Women: Knock the doors of the National Commission of Women for help and get your problem sorted. File an online complaint on their website against the person who committed the offence.

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