A Legal Guide to Sexual Harassment Laws At Workplace

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INTRODUCTION

Sexual harassment involves any kind of unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. This type of harassment can take place with either of the genders and not just limited to females. It’s not about fun or friendship but involves the abuse of power. It is to be kept in mind that different persons respond differently in given situations. What may seem like an innocent comment or action to some person may be deemed offensive or derogatory to another. It is to be kept in mind that not all the time do females constitute to be the victim of sexual harassment. It is estimated that 50% of women employed in workplaces have been subjected to some kind of harassment be it physical or mental. It does not just happen with women working in large offices or with a predominant male environment but can also take place in any office irrespective of age, gender or community. The landmark judgment laid down by the Supreme Court in “Visakha vs State of Rajasthan, 1997” changed the scenario of women employed in workplaces. The employers now can face heavy charges against themselves if they fail to prevent sexual harassment at their offices. The rule is laid down by Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

WHAT CONSTITUTES SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Sexual harassment at workplace results in the violation of Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India which guarantees the right to equality and freedom to all the citizens throughout the country. It also leads in the violation of Article 21 of the Constitution which provides that every citizen has the right to live and that he has the absolute right of leading that life with dignity. Article 21 ensures that every person has an absolute right of practicing any profession with dignity. There are certain actions which constitute a hostile work environment such as:

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment (This for that)

This type of harassment occurs when a designated senior takes advantage of his seniority and asks a junior or subordinate to perform any such task or maybe through his words puts the subordinate in a position wherein he/she might not feel actually comfortable. The subordinate has no option other than to follow the commands of his senior and thus becomes a victim of harassment. In return, the senior might promise something to the junior but the junior nevertheless becomes a victim of harassment.

Creating a Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment is created when an employee repeatedly performs such actions which in their very nature are explicit or prohibited to be performed in the work place. Some of these actions might be:

  • Comments about someone’s appearances.
  • Indecent remarks
  • Questions about someone’s sex life
  • Requests for sexual favours.
  • Sexual demands made by a senior thereby taking an advantage of his position.
  • Promises or threats made to someone concerning his employment conditions in return of sexual favours.

COMPLIANCES UNDER SEXUAL HARASSMENT ACT, 2013

There are various compliances which the organizations nowadays have to follow for ensuring a better and a safe work environment for each of their employees. Some of the compliances are:

  • An Internal Complaints Committee(ICC) needs to be formed by every organization which has employed 10 or more than 10 people. This compliance is important because this allows even a third party like a contractor to sue the organization for any sort of harassment if it happened with him in the office.
  • The organization’s anti harassment policy needs to be in conformity with the new law. It means that if there is any amendment made in the act then the organization’s policy needs to be amended accordingly such as the definitions or the clauses.
  • The employment contracts of the employees must hold a separate clause wherein it is clearly mentioned that the employees will be bound and held liable if they are being caught for any act coming under the definition of sexual harassment.
  • The offices need to display conspicuously notices and pictures of the penal provisions that might result as the penalty of any sexual harassment at the work place.
  • If any employee is found to be harassed by some other person within the office then proper help and support must be given to the victim and he/she should be properly supported in initiating a legal claim against the offender.
  • The Internal Complaints Committee must be well equipped with information and measures to help any victim of such harassment at all times.

CONCLUSION

Before the judgment in Visakha vs State of Rajasthan, our country did not have any strict norms for the protection and safeguarding of females at the workplace. Instead, no one paid any heed towards it because it was considered to be an inherent part of the job. But with time, the authorities came to their senses and realized that such kind of acts cannot be allowed to take place in the work environment. Be it a male or a female, both of them need to be ensured about their safety and security within the four walls of their organization. The induction of Sexual Harassment (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 has ensured that the big organizations induce the clause of no sexual harassment in their company policies.


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