Sexual Harassment at Workplace

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act was passed by Lok Sabha on September 3, 2012 and by Rajya Sabha on February 26, 2013 . The bill got assent of President on April 23,2013 and was in force from December 9, 2013. This Act is to protect women from sexual harassment at the workplace.

This Act is for any women who is assaulted at any workplace which can be office, factory, etc. i.e. any public or private. It makes people realize their right to gender equality, life and liberty and equality in working conditions everywhere. This will give security to women and will improve their participation in work. This results in their economic empowerment and inclusive growth.

Penal Code :

  • The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Section 354 was added to the Indian Penal Code in which penalty for a man committing offence is 1-3 years imprisonment or fine.
  • Non-compliance with the provisions of the Act shall be punishable with a fine of to ₹ 50,000. Repeated violations may lead to higher penalties and cancellation of license or registration to conduct business.

Sexual harassment results in violation of :

  • The Fundamental Rights of women to equality under articles 14 and 15 of the .
  • Her right to life and to live with dignity under article 21 of the Constitution .
  • Right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business which includes a right to a safe environment free from sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment at Workplace lawescort

Some Landmark cases are as follows :

Case 1 : Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997)

Issue Raised: Is the employer having any responsibility in cases of sexual harassment by its employee or to its employees at a workplace?
Facts : 
  1. It is a case in which a lower cast social worker, Bhanwari Devi was trying to stop a child marriage in her village was allegedly gang-raped by five men of the upper-class community. She went to the police station to lodge a complaint against the offenders but no thorough investigation was done.
  2. For justice she went to trial court where the accused was acquitted due to lack of the medical shred of evidence. So many women’s groups and organizations went for appeal against the judgment. The result of which, a public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court of India on the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace.
  3. Supreme Court held that the sexual harassment of a woman at a workplace would be violating her fundamental rights of gender equality and right to life and liberty under Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The court concluded that such Act would be considered as a violation of women’s human rights.
The Supreme Court had made it mandatory that these had to be followed by all originations until a legislative framework on the subject has been drawn-up and enacted.
The case laid down many guidelines and requirements which needs to be fulfilled by the employer as well as other responsible persons or institutions:
  • For preventing the acts of sexual harassment in the workplace, it should be the duty of the employer or any other responsible person to prescribe for procedures and settlements.
  • Formation of a complaint committee at all workplaces.
  • Such committee has to be headed by a woman employee only and should have NGO or third-party participation.
  • Half of the members of a committee should be comprised of women only.
  • All complaints regarding sexual harassment of a woman employee would be dealt by this committee only, appropriate action in this regard shall be initiated by the employers in accordance with the concerned law.
  • The committee would advise and recommend to the victim for the further course of action.
  • Provides for the definition of sexual harassment which includes unwelcomed sexually determined behavior such as :
a. Physical contact.
b.Demand or request for sexual favors.
c.Sexually colored remarks.
d.Showing pornography.
e.Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or nonverbal conduct of a sexual nature.
So, these guidelines were the first of its type which were created for the gender equality rights of women, which should be free from harassment in both public and private employment. This judgment led the Indian Government to enact the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 which came into force from December 9,2013. This Act superseded the Vishaka Guidelines for prevention of sexual harassment introduced by the Supreme Court of India.

Case 2 : Air India

In 2012, an employee working at a restaurant at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New which was outsourced, filed a case against a senior Air India official, accusing him of sexually harassing her. The woman said the official showed her porn clips, nude pictures, and made physical advances. While the police launched a probe, the woman said, her complaint to an assistant general manager at Air India was ignored.He asked her to take 15 days break and would be given a job at a different department. When she went back, the security staff refused to let her in and she was sacked for complaining against an higher official.

Case 3 :Tarun Tejpal

In November 2013, Tarun Tejpal, a senior journalist and editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine was accused of raping a young female staffer in an elevator in a Goa hotel. The Goa police immediately charged Tejpal with rape, sexual harassment. Tejpal spent six months in jail before the supreme court granted him bail.
Soon after his , Shoma Choudhary, the then managing director of Tehelka had come under criticism for her ineffective handling of the complaint and for trying to hush up the matter.
The trial in the case is yet to begin.

Case 4 : AK Ganguly

In December 2013, AK Ganguly, a supreme court judge was accused by an intern of sexually harassing her at a hotel in New Delhi. The intern wrote about the incident in a blog, following which the then chief justice of India set up a fact-finding panel to ascertain the veracity of the former intern’s allegations. In July,2014 when Delhi police said there wasn’t enough evidence to lodge an FIR against Ganguly , India’s home ministry said there was no case against him.

Case 5 : Doordarshan

An employee of India’s public- television broadcaster, Doordarshan, had alleged that her supervisor in Patna had sexually harassed her, he passed obscene comments, made physical advances. She officially lodged a complaint in April 2015 after an internal probe her allegations were found to be true, no action was taken. She was transferred to another Doordarshan office.
Subsequently, she approached the police but a case was not filed.

Case 6 : All India Radio

AIR, the country’s national radio broadcaster, was in the news in 2013 when women employees complained of sexual harassment and by senior officials. Months later, an investigation confirmed charges of sexual misconduct. “Casual presenters at FM Gold and FM Rainbow seem to be in a vulnerable position because of the casual nature of their engagement,” the ministry of information and broadcast said in its report.
The report directed AIR to install closed-circuit cameras in offices and subject staff to surprise inspections.

Case 7 : Greenpeace

In 2015, a woman employee at Greenpeace India said she had to leave her job in 2013 due to sexual harassment and rape by a colleague. After repeated complains to the human resources department by her and others against same person no action was taken. A member of Greenpeace’s ICC told the Times of India in 2015 that a suggestion to oust the offender was “overturned” by the executive director.
Two years since, no action has been taken.

Case 8 : RK Pachauri

In February 2015, RK Pachauri, the then director general of The Energy and Resources Institute, was accused of sexually harassing a researcher at the organization since September 2013.
The 74-year-old Pachauri, the former chairman of the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, denied the allegations. He claimed his computer and phone were hacked, but the police rubbished this. A week after the first complaint, another woman spoke up alleging sexual harassment by Pachauri.
In March 2016, the Delhi police charged the scientist with sexual harassment, assault or use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, stalking and gesturing, or acting with the intention of insulting the modesty of a woman.
Majority of women employees do not report sexual harassment due to lack of confidence in the organization mechanism, low awareness about law and procedures, threat of professional victimization apart from fear of ridicule, stigma, embarrassment. In May 2016 there was an amendment to the 2013 Act wherein nomenclature was changed from Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to Internal Committee (IC).The employers and ICs have not made efforts to create assurance in women employees so there is low or no reporting of sexual harassment. Low or zero reporting justifies the passive approach taken by the IC’s.Role of IC is to receive complaints to proactively undertaking prevention initiatives which will create awareness about rights of women employees guaranteed by law and raising their confidence to report incidents of sexual harassment. This will help break silence and enhance reporting of sexual harassment.
Written by- Pallavi Nayyar
Amity Law School, Noida


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