One spends maximum time at a place they work at / are employed at. A safe and healthy environment at such a workplace is a necessity for progress and development of oneself and of the career of one person. Sexual harassment at workplace certainly hampers growth and makes the workplace extremely difficult for the woman at the receiving end. Such sexual harassment should not go unreported and the harasser should definitely receive punishment for such acts. Read further to understand the ways of reporting incidents of Sexual Harassment.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Any inappropriate gesture, joke, suggestion, favour by a colleague or any offer for promotion or monetary benefits in exchange of sexual favours, etc may be termed as sexual harassment. It is necessary to understand that an incident of sexual harassment can happen to any female individual, irrespective of the nature or size of the work, or her place in the hierarchy of the organization.
It is also not necessary that the incident takes place at the place of work itself. It may also occur during any of the company events, work related travels, customer’s/ client’s premises or any work related electronic communication. One is also entitled to file a complaint even if one is a freelancer, consultant or even a client to the workplace.
In 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was enacted to keep a check on such incidents. POSH(Prevention of Sexual Harassment) guidelines were also framed for seeking quick and effective redressal. It has been made mandatory for every organization to follow these guidelines.
Whom does the Act apply to?
It applies to any “aggrieved woman”, of any age, who contends to have been subjected to sexual harassment.
If a woman is at the receiving end of sexual harassment, it should be reported.
Reporting incidents of sexual harassment:
- The first step to reporting an incident of sexual harassment is to approach the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) of the organization. Each organization employing above ten people are required to form an ICC.
- In case the complaint arises from an unorganized sector, or in case there is no ICC in the particular workplace, or if the complaint is against the employer, it can be made to the Local Complaints Commissioner, required to be set up in every district by the Government.
- One can also complain to the District Magistrate of appropriate jurisdiction.
- Sexual Harassment is a punishable offence under the laws in India.
1. Procedure under ICC:
- The presiding officer of ICC is a senior female member of the organization.
- A written complaint may be made to the ICC of the particular organization.
- Identity to make complainant can be kept anonymous while filing the complaint.
- Time limit for complaint: Such complaint should be made within 3 months from the date the incident has taken place. These 3 months can be extended by another 3 months, if reasonable grounds are present.
- Documents required: any document that can substantiate an allegation of sexual harassment such as text messages, emails, restaurant bills etc. shall be kept carefully to be used as evidence to prove the case.
- Once the complaint is received by the ICC, the accused will be made aware of the allegations made against him and the name of the complainant.
- Conciliation proceeding: After this the complainant will be provided with an opportunity to ask for conciliation proceedings, by communication with the accused, in the presence of the members of the Committee. However, no monetary relief is allowed in conciliation cases. The ICC will record the basis of the conciliation and provide copies of the settlement to the aggrieved employee as well as the accused.
- In case the accused does not comply with the terms and conditions of the conciliation settlement, the aggrieved employee will still have an option to approach the ICC for proper enquiry of the incident.
- However, in case the the complainant does not wish the matter to be settled by conciliation at all, the ICC will hold an enquiry into the matter and both the accused and the complainant will be questioned. Specific documents and witnesses may be called upon.
- Time limit to complete investigation: The ICC shall complete the investigation within 3 months of the receipt of the complaint.
- Shifting of complainant: During the process, the complainant may be shifted to another team or shift, or even assigned work from home, if practicable. Leave of appropriate duration may also be granted in case required.
- Report of investigation: After a conclusion is drawn out of the investigation, the complainant and the accused will be provided with the report of investigation, within 10 days of the completion of the investigation.
- Action against sexual harasser: In case it is concluded that the accused had sexually harassed as claimed, the accused may be subject to strict disciplinary action including transfers, compensations, withholding of promotions, suspension from employment, or even complete dismissal. Any further legal recourse could be sought by the complainant.
- The complaint that one files with the ICCs or LCCs are also monitored by the National Commission for Women to ensure proper redressal.
- False Complaint: if it is found by the ICC that the complainant has maliciously made a false complaint against the accused, disciplinary action could also be taken against the complainant. This action could amount to the same punishment that would have been levied on the accused had he been found guilty.
- If one is dissatisfied or uncomfortable with the ICC, or if there is no ICC at the workplace, one can also post a complain on the online portal created by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013. Complaints via She-Box are filed directly to the ministry. The complaint can be made here (http://www.shebox.nic.in/), and one check the update on the complaint status as well.
- Once SHe-Box receives the complaint, it would directly forward it to the ICC of appropriate or concerned ministry / PSU / departments / organizations.
- It can also direct an organization to form an ICC or order it to function appropriately.
3. Online Complaint to National Commission for Women:
4. Complaint with a Police Officer:
- An FIR can be filed to a police officer at the nearest police station under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
- The FIR will be registered as a “Zero FIR”, in case the police station is not the one of appropriate jurisdiction. If this is the case, it would be transferred to the appropriate jurisdiction, and hence no complaint of sexual harassment can go unaddressed.
- At the police stations, the female victim should look out for “Rapid Response Desk for Women”, which will have a lady police officer. One can also directly approach a female police officer. In case no lady officer is present, a lady constable can be approached.
- One can be accompanied by a family member or a friend, or a lawyer.
- The complaint can be made by call or email.
- One should always check the content of the complaint as noted by the police, to make sure that there are no discrepancies.
- No sexual harassment complaint can be refused to be lodged by the police officer, since it is a cognizable offence. However, in case if the police officer still refuses to do so, one can complain to an officer of a higher rank, or to the District Judicial Magistrate under Section- 156(3) and Section- 190 of the CrPC, with the help of a lawyer.
How to avoid Sexual Harassment at workplace?
- Females colleagues should be treated with respect.
- Power and position shall not be used in a derogatory manner.
- All behaviors with sexual undertones shall be avoided completely at offices, or at any place where such work takes place.
- If desire is not reciprocated, professional connections outside of workplace should be avoided.
- If a female employee / colleague shows the slightest hint of discomfort arising out of a conversation / behavior / jokes by another colleague, it should be stopped completely.