Quick guide to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment at the workplace Quick guide to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment at the workplace
The Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, all employers in India have... Quick guide to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment at the workplace

The Sexual Harassment Act, 2013

Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, all employers in India have a specific legal obligation to “provide a safe and secure working environment free from sexual harassment for all women”.

Sexual harassment: Includes a) physical contact or advances; b) a demand or request for sexual favours; c) making sexually coloured remarks; d) showing pornography; and/or e) Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

Workplace: Refers to any place (including while on travel) visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including transportation provided by the employer for undertaking such a journey.

Employer: Refers to a) the head of the department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office, branch or unit of the Appropriate Government or local authority or such officer specified in this behalf; b) any person (whether contractual or not) responsible for the management, supervision and control of a designated workplace not covered under clause (i); and c) a person or a household who employs or benefits from the employment of domestic worker or women employees.

Penalties for Non-compliance with the Act

An employer can be subjected to a penalty of up to INR 50,000 for: a) failure to constitute Internal Complaints Committee; b) failure to act upon recommendations of the Complaints Committee; c) failure to file an annual report to the District Officer where required; or e) contravening or attempting to contravene or abetting contravention of the Act or Rules.
Any employer who repeats a breach under the Act shall be subject to: a) twice the punishment or higher punishment if prescribed under any other law for the same offence; and b) cancellation/withdrawal/non-renewal of registration/license required for carrying on business or activities.

Steps to Comply with the Provisions of the Act

Mentioned below are the steps that every employer in India must follow to comply with the country’s Sexual Harassment law:

1. Create and communicate a detailed policy on sexual harassment at the workplace.
The policy must a) prohibit unwelcome behaviour that constitutes workplace sexual harassment b) champion prevention of workplace sexual harassment through orientation, awareness and sensitisation sessions; and c) provide a detailed framework for redressal of the issue.

2. Ensure awareness and orientation on the issue.
Awareness and orientation on the issue must a) effectively communicate a policy that prohibits unwelcome behaviour that constitutes workplace sexual harassment, and provides a detailed framework for prevention, and redressal processes; b) carry out awareness and orientation programmes for all employees; and c) create forums for dialogue i.e. Panchayati Raj Institutions, Gram Sabhas, Women’s Groups, Urban Local Bodies or like bodies, as appropriate.

3. Constitute an Internal complaints committee (ICC) at their workplaces.
By written order, every employer with 10 or more employees is obliged to constitute an ICC. The ICC should be composed of the following members: a) Chairperson: A woman working at senior level as employee; if not available, she should be nominated from other office/units/ department/ workplace of the same employer; b) 2 Members (minimum): From among employees committed to the cause of women/having legal knowledge/experience in social work; c) Member: From among NGO/associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issue of Sexual Harassment.

Where the office or administrative units of a workplace are located in different places, division or sub-division, an ICC has to be set up at every administrative unit and office.

[Complaints Committee: Besides an ICC, the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 also provides for a Local Complaints Committee (LCC). State Governments will notify a District Magistrate/Additional District Magistrate/ Collector/Deputy Collector as a District Officer at the local level. The District Officer will constitute an LCC in every district so as to enable women in the unorganised sector or small establishments to work in an environment free of sexual harassment. The LCC can be approached when the employer has less than 10 employees; or when the complaint is against the employer himself. Both Complaints Committees must have 50 per cent representation of women. ICC or LCC members can hold their position for not more than three years from the date of their nomination or appointment.]

4. Ensure ICC is trained in both skill and capacity.
Complaints Committee/s must possess critical skills/capacity to effectively carry out their role. That includes a) a sound grasp of the Act, Vishaka Guidelines, applicable Service Rules, relevant laws and an understanding of workplace sexual harassment and related issues; b) the ability to synthesise information i.e. relevant documents, the law and interviews. c) the ability to communicate effectively, write clearly, listen actively and conduct interviews; d) competent at showing empathy, being impartial and being thorough; and e) should be able to identify sexual harassment and its impact.

5. Prepare an annual report and report to the respective state government.
The Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 mandates submission of an Annual Report by the ICC/LCC to the employer/District Officer.

The District Officer will forward a brief report on the annual reports to the appropriate State Government. Such reports must include the following information: a) No. of complaints received; b) No. of complaints disposed of; c) No. of cases pending for more than 90 days; d) of workshops/awareness programmes carried out; e) Nature of action taken by the employer/DO

The Report of ICC will be forwarded to the District Officer through the Employer.

[Source: Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 by Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India]

The Challenge

It is important to note that while employers who meet these requirements may fulfill their legal obligations, they may not effectively address sexual harassment and its impact on their workplace.

That’s because sexual harassment can affect anyone, not just women. Moreover, any efforts towards prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment at the workplace that are made only for the sake of compliance and without  may prove to be extremely ineffective–or even backfire–in the long run.  

Sexual Harassment – More than a “Compliance” or “Women’s” Issue!

We must keep in mind that sexual harassment is more than just a “compliance” or “women’s” issue.

It is, in fact, a gross violation of human rights. And, if not addressed effectively, it can have a devastating impact on its victims and their surroundings (including their workplace).

Impact of sexual harassment on its victims

  • Weakens mental and physical health
  • Lowers productivity
  • Reduces creative output
  • Increases unpaid leave
  • Impacts job and career prospects
  • Subjects to gossip, defamation, and public scrutiny
  • Hampers promotional opportunities

Impact of sexual harassment on the workplace of its victims

  • Destroys reputation
  • Repels good talent
  • Increases legal costs
  • Hampers work output
  • Affects initiative
  • Affects interpersonal relationships/team work
  • Corrupts the overall health of an organisation

How Employers Must Address Sexual Harassment at their Workplaces

Besides fulfilling the minimum requirements of the law, here is what all employers must do to effectively prohibit, prevent and redress sexual harassment at their workplaces:

Prohibition

1. Regularly practice and propagate zero tolerance for sexual harassment

2. Formulate and disseminate a gender-neutral policy prohibiting sexual harassment.

3. Refrain from merely copying the policies of other employers.

4. Translate the policy into local languages for employees from linguistically diverse backgrounds.

5. Verbal, jargon-free communication of the policy in workplaces where literacy may be an issue.

6. Annually review the policy to make sure it is effective and contains relevant information.

7. Policy should be made accessible to employees with disability.

Prevention

1. Use simple, practical and relevant communication to create awareness on the issue.

2. Ensure that all training programmes are developed keeping target audience in mind.

3. Get management/leadership support to raise sexual harassment awareness in their teams.

4. Display anti-sexual harassment posters and distribute related brochures in all main work areas.

5. Ensure all HR personnel are trained to identify any sexually-deviant behaviour among job candidates/employees.

6. Make addressing sexual harassment at the workplace part of every manager’s key responsibilities.

7. Use interactive/experiential training sessions to reiterate every person’s moral obligation to prevent any discrimination.

Redressal

1. Develop a mechanism for male employees to complain about sexual harassment.

2. Encourage reporting of any discriminatory behaviour that goes against the organisation’s sexual harassment policy.

3. Educate all managers on how to offer formal support to anyone who wants to file a sexual harassment complaint.

4. Ensure that the contact details of ICC (for female employees) and HR representatives (for male employees) to file a sexual harassment complaint are easily accessible.

5. Make it possible for all employees, irrespective of designation, to expose sexual harassment around through whistleblowing.

6. Ensure that all employees go through emotional intelligence trainings to stay alert to any discriminatory behaviour around them.

Be.artsy India—a  for-profit social enterprise founded in 2010—uses a combination of art, technology and emotional intelligence to design and execute programmes and campaigns that help organisations not just redress but successfully prevent and prohibit sexual harassment at their workplaces.

So far, we have successfully executed Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) programmes/trainings/workshops/campaigns for clients such as PepsiCo India, Amex, and Airtel.

Our POSH campaign ‘Mind Bugs’ for PepsiCo India even won the company’s prestigious Harvey C Russell Inclusion Award.

For further information, please contact Shikha Mittal, Founder-Director, Be.artsy India at: [email protected]

 

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