Laws in Place to Prevent Harassment of Women, But of What Use!

Workplace harassment of women

Harassment of Women

Sexual harassment of women at the workplace is a very common issue in India and also a very serious one. Sexual harassment of women can take place in the office in various ways. Harassment is an offensive behaviour that shows disgrace to the woman, disturbs and upsets her. Sexual harassment or any kind of physical, mental, behavioural harassment of a woman at the workplace by the boss, colleagues, supervisor is a punishable offence and should not be ignored. In India, laws have been enacted to address workplace harassment, be it sexual, psychological or discriminatory by the male members in an organisation. Sexual harassment of a woman at the workplace means violation of her rights to equality, life and freedom. It creates a hostile working environment that discourages her from getting involved in her work and affects her growth in the society.

Some common forms of workplace harassment

  • Discrimination at the workplace on the basis of gender, religion, castes, including complexion and looks of a person.
  • Floating rumours and circulating vicious slanders about somebody.
  • Isolating an individual in the office.
  • Dominating someone unfairly.
  • Threatening somebody.
  • Intimidating with threatening language.
  • Removing the person from his/her role or responsibilities without any reason.
  • Demoting the person without sufficient reason.
  • Changing the guidelines for the employee constantly.
  • Cracking offensive jokes.
  • Sending offensive mails or making offensive calls or showing pornography.
  • Physical abuse or asking for sexual favours
  • Assigning heavy workload or setting unrealistic deadlines
  • Getting physical without the consent of the person, etc.

These are some of the types of sexual harassment that a person, usually the woman, faces in an organisation.

The Constitution

  • Articles 14 & 15: Emphasise equality and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, caste or place of birth.
  • Article 19: Gives fundamental rights to all citizens, whether male or female, to choose or practise any profession and to carry on any trade, occupation or business.
  • Article 21: Every citizen has the right to live a life with dignity and personal liberty and women must be treated with respect, decency and dignity at the workplace.

The Vishaka guidelines

These were a set of guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court of India in 1997 with the objective to prevent sexual harassment of women at the workplace.  The Vishaka guidelines include:

  • A complaint committee should be formed at the workplace by the employer.
  • All employers should be aware of the laws and prohibit harassment of any form.
  • Prohibition of sexual harassment
  • There should not be any hostile environment towards women at the workplace
  • The harassed victims can ask for their transfer or the transfer of their perpetrators.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013

The Vishaka guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court were superseded in 2013 by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. This Act to prevent sexual harassment of women was passed by the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2012 and by the Rajya Sabha on February 26, 2013. The Act came into force on  December 9, 2013 though it had got the assent of the President on April 23, 2013.

Provisions of the Act

  • Mandatory for all offices with more than 10 employees to have a complaints committee to deal with complaints of employees within a time frame or face penalty.
  • Two members amongst the employees should have experience in social work or legal knowledge.
  • Also one member of the complaints committee should be from the non-governmental organisations dealing with issues relating to sexual harassment. Fifty per cent of the nominated members must be women.
  • Sexual harassment cases at workplace will have to be solved by in-house complaint committees within 90 days. Otherwise a penalty will be imposed, which can even lead to cancellation of registration or licence of the office.
  • Sexual harassment may lead to termination of service of the accused. Also the complainant may face similar punishment if the accusations are found to be false.
  • An employer can be fined Rs 50,000 in case of violation of his role and duties under the Act.
  • Penalties range from 1 to 3 years imprisonment or a fine.
  • As sexual harassment is considered a crime, employers must report offences.

Given some cases of sexual harassment of the high profile type like Phaneesh Murthy and Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka in the recent past, the main fear of many organizations is loss of reputation. It is better that the companies focus on prevention of sexual harassment of women at the workplace, rather than facing loss of reputation and a financial downfall.

Notwithstanding the harsh provisions, what is the guarantee that, unlike of all laws, this one will deliver?


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