What protection does a woman have against sexual harassment?

The specific law ‘the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013’ to provide ample protection to women in India was passed by the parliament of India in 2013. The law aims to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work and has provisions of strict punishment for violators.

Though there were provisions in the form of the Vishaka Guidelines promulgated by the Indian Supreme Court in 1997, the requirement for a separate law to provide protection to women at work place was felt and by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, it has been fulfilled.

Some major features in the new law

The Definition of Work Place: The new law redefined the term “workplace” which had limited definition in the Vishaka Guidelines wherein it was confined to the traditional office set-up where there is a clear employer-employee relationship. Here in the new law, the Act goes much further and takes organizations, department, office, branch unit, etc. in the public and private sector, organized and unorganized, hospitals, nursing homes, educational institutions, sports institutes, stadiums, sports complex and any place visited by the employee during the course of employment including the transportation, etc. in to its ambit.

Aggrieved Woman: Apart from defining ‘work place’ the law also defines who the aggrieved woman is wherein it says that any woman facing sexual harassment at the work place defined as above is aggrieved woman and creates a mechanism for redressal of complaints. The law also has provision to provide protection against false or malicious charges. The law has expanded the definition of aggrieved woman to provide protection under the Act as it covers almost all women, irrespective of her age or employment status.

Forming a committee to look after sexual harassment cases

The law asks the organized or unorganized sectors, public or private organizations to form a committee complete the inquiry within a time period of 90 days. Once the inquiry is complete, the report has to be sent to the employer or the District Officer, as the case may be who after receiving the report must take action within 60 days. Every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee at each office or branch with 10 or more employees.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013’ has provision that the District Officer is required to constitute a Local Complaints Committee at each district, and if required at the block level. The law vests the powers of civil courts for gathering evidence to the Complaints Committees which are required to provide for conciliation before initiating an inquiry, if requested by the complainant. In situations the employers do not comply with the provisions of the Act they are subject to punishment with a fine of up to INR 50,000 and the repeated violations may lead to higher penalties and cancellation of license or registration to conduct business as well.

How to file sexual harassment case?

When you are going to file sexual harassment case against someone at workplace, it’s important for you to keep a written record of the time and date of the incident as well as the individual or individuals involved. Also, note down the place the harassment occurred, and other details that pertain to the incident as these will be inquired when you are asked to tell your version of the incident. Therefore, keeping accurate, detailed records of what actually happened to you will help your supervise conduct an investigation of the incident and also help the Sexual Harassment Complaint Committee see through the facts.

You must file the claim as soon as possible

Delay is not condoned; therefore, file the harassment claim as soon as possible i.e. as soon as the incident occurs, you should file the claim with the Complaint Committee.  You can file the claim by mail, and in person, by providing your name, address, telephone number, and detailed information about your workplace and your employer. Giving as much detail as possible will help you and the committee as well to see through the facts and dispose of the justice as early as possible.

The identity of the aggrieved woman, respondent, witnesses as well as other details of the complaint will be kept confidential, cannot be published or disclosed to the public or media. The law says that the committee shall look into the truth of the allegations contained in the complaint and give ample opportunity for the parties to tell their versions and come up with the witness and evidence.

The Act provides the option of a settlement between the aggrieved woman and the responded through conciliation but only on the request of the woman. The Section 13 (3) (2) has a provision which gives power to the Internal Committee or Local Committee to determine the quantum of compensation considering several factors.