Sexual Harassment At Workplace: The Laws and the Dos and Don’ts

Sexual Harassment at Workplace

Sexual Harassment at Workplace

India being a patriarchal society is trying very hard to remove the bias against women; by educating them and seeing them step out of homes and fulfil duties as an earning member in their own right. But in all this advancement, the question remains if women in India are safe in the workplace? Is she an entity, a being, or just a commodity to be used in the eyes of the men who are working alongside her?

Contrary to popular belief, most working women have faced issues with sexual harassment at their workplace. It is just that now more women are coming forward and reporting incidents of sexual harassment, for they refuse to take such treatment without giving a fight.

What is Sexual Harassment? What is the Law?

What is sexual harassment at the workplace? Well, it does not just include a creepy man forcing himself on a helpless working woman. There are many others ways that men find to subtly harass a woman sexually just because they get an adrenalin kick out of it.

According to Psychologist Malini Krishnan, even a persistent glance could be termed as harassment at workplace. It could start with “friendship” — starting with a simple “let’s hang out”, to making a woman lower her guard after winning her confidence. And when she finally starts to trust the person, it crops up. The person might then say inappropriate things or even touch her without her permission.

Here are a few ways and means in which men harass women, but the instances largely remain unreported for the women have no idea as to how to deal with the situation:

  • Showing pornographic pictures on the computer, or phone, either with intent, or as if by accident.
  • Using suggestive language and saying inappropriate things.
  • Staring at the chest while speaking.
  • Touching the back, shoulder or knees without any reason or permission.
  • Stalking on any of the social platforms.
  • Any rumours/ talk at workplace with sexually coloured remarks about a working woman, or spreading rumours about a woman’s sexual relationship with anybody.
  • Calling on the pretext of work and taking the conversation to a zone which is extremely uncomfortable for the woman.
  • Humming, or singing provocative, sexually explicit songs every time the woman concerned is in the vicinity.

The list is endless. The perverts are, unfortunately, very imaginative in their skills at harassing women sexually. However, all such acts that compromise the position of a working woman are illegal under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013. The Act clearly states the following:

  • It is mandatory for any company, or organisation having more than ten employees to have a sexual harassment committee called the Vishakha Committee.
  • The committee should comprise two, or three people from the said organisation and two people from outside, so that it’s balanced and independent.
  • The sole job of the committee is to investigate cases of sexual harassment in the workplace and list appropriate actions for the employer.
  • Workplace is not just the four walls of a physical office space, but any ‘place of work’. An out-of-office meeting, online conversations as a freelancer, ‘casual’ meeting in a cafe, or even an interview in a company where you are not employed yet—you’re entitled for protection against sexual harassment under the Act.
  • It’s the employer’s duty to make available the names of the chairperson and committee members.

What To Do in Case You Are Being Sexually Harassed

The recent ongoing controversy of an anonymous post by a former employee of The Viral Fever (TVF), accusing its CEO and founder Arunabh Kumar of allegedly molesting her, has made people sit up and take notice that all is, in fact, not well for many working women in India.

It may be a boss, or a colleague giving that supposedly harmless tap on the shoulder, or calling a fellow woman colleague on the false pretexts to simply stare at her chest, but many women do dread heading for the office every morning.

It is indeed obnoxious to be treated/ seen like a commodity. But the working women need to take a stand now, without the fear of losing their jobs. The laws are in place to protect the women. It is time to say ‘No’ to the furtive glances and inappropriate touching and sometimes even outright sexual favours demanded in lieu of work.

  • Speak up. Say ‘No’. Walk away from any man who makes you feel uncomfortable.
  • Convey that you are uncomfortable with any such advances by a colleague, which establishes a line of misconduct.
  • Keep your friends informed.
  • Collect evidence.
  • Avoid being alone with the harasser.
  • Do not accept explanations from the HR saying that this was the first offence. Remember, an offence is an offence.
  • Approach the Sexual Harassment Committee at the earliest.
  • Give a written complaint asking for a confirmation, which cannot be ignored.
  • Do not worry about colleagues accusing you of slander and shaming you. Remember, you are fighting for your self esteem.
  • Never think that what has happened was because of some fault of yours. It is the fault of the man who is sexually harassing you, and NEVER yours.
  • In extreme cases, counselling and therapy is advised.
  • In case this is happening with someone you know, take a stand along with them and help them.
  • Sharing the experience on social media is not enough. A proper official complaint has to be made.

Sexual Harassment Cases in India

While there are innumerable sexual harassment cases registered in India, a survey conducted by the Indian National Bar Association (INBA) found that of the 6,047 participants (both male and female), 38% said they’d faced harassment at the workplace.

Of these, 69% did not complain about it. Here are a few of the famous sexual harassment cases:

  • In 2002, Phaneesh Murthy, a director with Infosys was accused of sexual harassment by his secretary Reka Maximovitch. They reached an out-of-court settlement at US$3 million. Murthy was again accused of the same crime in his next stint as CEO and president of iGate. He was removed by the company from his position.
  • In 2012, an employee working at a restaurant at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, filed a case against a senior Air India official, accusing him of sexually harassing her by showing her porn clips and making physical advances. The woman alleged that the Assistant General Manager at Air India ignored her complaint.
  • Wipro was dragged to court by Shreya Ukil in 2015, when she alleged that she was being discriminated against when it came to increment of salary and that her manager forced her to have an affair with him. In the GBP1.2-million lawsuit filed in London, Wipro won the case when UK Employment Tribunal upheld the dismissal of the complainant from the services of the organisation as appropriate and rejected claims of adverse cultural attitude towards women in the organisation.
  • In the most recent case of sexual harassment, a former employee alleged rampant sexual harassment by the CEO Arunabh Kumar of the the Viral Fever (TVF). The complaint was made anonymously on social media and several other TVF employees came out in support, recounting their own incidents of molestation. The CEO, blatantly wielding his position of power in his unapologetic comment to the Mumbai Mirror, said, “The kind of insinuations the FB post makes are untrue. I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she’s sexy. I compliment women. Is that wrong? Having said that, I am very particular about my behaviour – I will approach a woman, but never force myself.”

Unfortunately for the working women, while the laws against sexual harassment are very much in place, the wheels of justice take their own time in churning out the right judgement.

The women fear being a social outcast if the news is spread in the public domain. Thus, in most cases, they’d remain mute and bear with the unwanted advances made.

There is a flip side, too, to the entire scenario of sexual harassment cases. While some women misconstrue a general show of friendship as sexual harassment, many also manipulate men making advances, putting the genuine contenders for justice in a very compromising position. In spite of being victims, as a result, they are not able to fight for justice.