Sexual Harassment at Workplace

Published on 27 Oct 2016 by Team

Sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as physical contact and advances a demand or request for sexual favours sexually coloured remarks; any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

Where any of these acts are committed in circumstances where the victim has a reasonable apprehension that in relation to the victim’s employment or work whether she is drawing a salary, or honorarium or voluntary, whether in government, public or private enterprise such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem. The woman can file a complaint regarding sexual harassment in a workplace with the labour court that has appropriate jurisdiction with help of an employment lawyer in India.

Vishaka Initiative

In 1997, a women’s rights group called Vishaka took up the cause and filed a PIL in the Supreme Court. This case brought to the attention of the Supreme Court of India, "the absence of domestic law occupying the field, to formulate effective measures to check the evil of sexual harassment of working women at all workplaces". The Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment, in this case, laying down guidelines to be followed by establishments in dealing with complaints about sexual harassment.

The Court decided that the consideration of "International Conventions and norms are significant for the purpose of interpretation of the guarantee of gender equality, right to work with human dignity in Articles 14, 15 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution and the safeguards against sexual harassment implicit therein".

Sexual Harassment of Women Act

It took 16 years for the government of India to bring the Sexual Harassment of Women Act to be a reality. The act has effectively adopted and revised the guidelines laid down in the Vishaka judgement with added provisions of rigour and compliance. 

  1. The act mandates every office with 10 or more employees to have an internal complaint committee for grievance redressal.
  2.  The act is not gender neutral and provides protection only to women employees. 
  3.  The ambit of the Act includes organised as well as unorganised sector, women working in organisations or as domestic help.  
  4.  The roles and responsibilities laid down under the Act have been listed down below:  
  5.  Where the employer fails to constitute an Internal Committee or fails to take action under the Act he shall be punishable with a fine which may extend up to Rs. 50,000. An offence under this section is non-cognizable.
  6. Where an employer is twice convicted for an offence punishable under this Act it may lead to cancellation of license required for carrying out a business activity or imposition of twice the punishment from that imposed in the first instance. Hence all complaints are to be disposed off within a period of 90 days from the date of intimation, failing which penalty will be imposed on the organisation and repeated non-compliance can lead to cancellation of license or registration of the organisation. 

Remedies for other types of harassment at workplace

There is no law in India that states the other forms of sexual harassment and remedies available for the same. But most of the enterprise to take this into consideration and provides the remedies to the aggrieved, which may differ from place to place.Some of the remedies that can be provided are listed below:

  1. An injunction of that particular practice.
  2. Actual and Compensatory damages can be paid for the loss suffered.
  3. The perpetrator can be asked to compensate out of pocket expenses.
  4. Promotion and Incentives can be provided by the Enterprise.

Victim's Trauma

The consequences to the individual employee can be many and serious. In some situations, a harassed woman risks losing her job or the chance for a promotion if she refuses to give in to the sexual demands of someone in authority. In other situations, the unwelcome sexual conduct of co-workers makes the working conditions hostile and unpleasant- putting indirect pressure on her to leave the job.

Sometimes, the employee is so traumatized by the harassment that she suffers serious emotional and physical consequences and very often, becomes unable to perform her job properly. The effect on the morale of all employees can also be serious. Both men and women in a workplace can find their work disrupted by sexual harassment even if they are not directly involved. Sexual harassment can have a demoralising effect on everyone within range of it, and it often negatively impacts company productivity on the whole.

Internal Complaints Committee

The Act mandates the establishment of an Internal Complaints Committee at all branches or offices of organizations where at least 10 or more employees are employed.The constitution of the Committee is as follows:

  1. It should be headed by a woman employed at a senior level.
  2. Half of the members should be women.
  3. It should include a third party NGO/ another body.
  4. Two persons amongst employees committed to the cause of women/with experience in social work/legal knowledge should form part of the Committee.

The maximum period for which any member can occupy a position in the Committee is three years.


The employer’s obligations under the Act are as follows:

  1. Providing a safe working environment in the workplace.
  2. Displaying at the workplace, details of the penal consequences of indulging in acts of sexual harassment, the composition of the Internal Complaints Committee, and the availability of the grievance redressal mechanism for aggrieved employees.
  3. Providing necessary facilities to the Internal Complaints Committee for presiding over an inquiry and dealing with complaints.
  4. Taking disciplinary action when the Committee proves an allegation of sexual harassment.
  5. Encouraging employees to raise any issue of sexual harassment.
  6. When an outside party allegedly subjects an employee to sexual harassment, helping the employee initiate action against such a person.
  7. Carrying out employee awareness programs.

Penalties as per the Acts

The Act has imposed a penalty of ?50,000 for not:

  1. Establishing of internal committee by the organization.
  2. Submitting the annual report by the Internal Committee.
  3. Submitting the inquiry report by the Internal Committee.
  4. Taking action against false complaint/evidence.

The law relating to sexual harassment at workplace is the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. It criminalises sexual harassment at workplace and describes a proper redressal mechanism. Now, every company needs to comply with the norms of the Act and set up a committee for the redressal of such issues.

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