Safer work places for Women. And How?

By September 9, 2014 December 20th, 2019 No Comments
In December,
2013, the 
Sexual Harassment of Women
at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013  (“Act”)
came into effect.
The Honorable
Supreme Court of India in the case Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan and others.
(AIR 1997 SC 3011) had for the first time explicitly acknowledged, defined
and expounded as to what constitutes 
sexual harassment in a workplace. While passing the
judgment, the Honorable Apex Court propounded several guidelines to be adhered
to and complied by organization and companies in India. The guidelines laid
down in the said judgment are what came to be generically known as the Vishaka
Albeit, the
Vishaka Guidelines were in existence since 1997, yet time and again it was
observed that the said guidelines were not 
implemented in form, substance and spirit.
As a
consequence thereto, the legislature in the year 2013 enacted and brought into
comprehensive legislation so as to ensure protection of women against sexual harassment at
workplace by way of the Act. One might say that the Vishaka Guidelines is the
genesis of the Act, however, a careful perusal of the Act would reveal that the
Act in essence also broadens the scope, ambit and application of the said
definition of “sexual harassment” under the Act has been widened to
include any direct or indirect instances which may be interpreted as sexual harassment.
The Act now also provides for a mechanism to deal with every complaint with
relation tosexual harassment at the work place. In terms of the Act,
every employer of an organization employing 10 or more employees is mandated to
constitute a Internal Complaints Committee (“ICC”) at the work place. Apart
from the ICC, the Act also provides for Local Complaints Committee (“LCC”) at
district and block levels, the constitution of which is entrusted upon the
District Collector or Deputy Collector, as the case may be.
Besides constituting an ICC and other obligations stipulated in the
Act, it is also incumbent upon the Employer to provide a safe working
environment at the workplace as well as create awareness within the
organization of the existence of the ICC. Penalties include monetary penalty
and cancellation of registration or refusal of approval required from local or
Government Authority in order to carry on its businesses.
The Act r/w rules made
thereunder mandates providing protection to women against 
sexual harassment at workplace and
for the prevention and redressal of complaints of 
sexual harassment. The definition of
the term “workplace” under the Act is wide enough to cover organized as well as
unorganized sectors including government bodies, private and public sector
organisations, non-governmental organisations, organisations carrying on
commercial, vocational, educational, entertainment, industrial, financial
activities, hospitals and nursing homes, educational institutes, sports
institutions and stadiums used for training individuals. Accordingly, the
corporate office and even branch offices/warehouses/units would be covered
within the purview of a “workplace” under the Act.
The Act further
mandates that all employers employing 10 or more employees are required to
ensure certain compliances in order to implement the purposes of the Act. The
term “employees” is also widely defined to mean any person employed at a
workplace for any work on regular, temporary, ad hoc or daily wage basis,
either directly or through an agent, including a contractor, with or, without
the knowledge of the principal employer, whether for remuneration or not, or
working on a voluntary basis or otherwise, whether the terms of employment are
express or implied and includes a co-worker, a contract worker, probationer,
trainee, apprentice or called by any other such name:
1.       Constitution of
Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)
In terms of the Act, an organisation
will be required to set up an ICC for each office/warehouse/unit to deal with
instances of 
sexual harassment. The constitution of the ICC has to be broadly as follows:
headed by a woman, employed at a senior level with the
organisation from amongst the employees and one half of the total membership
must be comprised of women.
two members of ICC should be from amongst employees of the
organisation who are committed to the cause of women or have experience in
social work or have legal knowledge.
one member of the ICC should be from an NGO or association
committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issues relating
sexual harassment.
Apart from constitution of the ICC, the
organisation must provide necessary facilities to the ICC for dealing with any
complaints and conducting any inquiries such as providing assistance in
securing the attendance of respondent and witnesses before the ICC, making
available such information to the ICC as it may require having regard to the

2.       Formulation of
Internal Policy on Prohibition, Prevention and Redressal of 
Sexual Harassment
The organisation is required to
formulate and widely disseminate an internal policy or charter for prohibition,
prevention and redressal of 
sexual harassment at the
workplace (the “Policy”) intended to promote gender sensitive safe
spaces and remove underlying factors that contribute towards a hostile work
environment against women. The Act also requires that an act of 
sexual harassment should be
treated as a “misconduct” in the employee handbook of companies, if any.
3.       Notices
In terms of the Act, the organisation
is required to display at any conspicuous place in all the organisation offices
notices setting out (i) the penal consequences of indulging in acts of 
sexual harassment; (ii) the
composition of the ICC of the organisation; and (iii) the grievance redressal
mechanism available to aggrieved employees.
4.       Orientation and
Awareness Programmes
The Act provides that
every employer must undertake the following for effective implementation of the
carry out employee’s awareness programmes and create forum for
conduct capacity building and skill building programmes for the
members of the ICC;
carry out orientation programmes and seminars for the members of
the ICC;
Declare and make the employees aware of the names and contact
details of all the members of the ICC; and
Use modules developed by the State Governments to conduct
workshops and awareness programmes for sensitising the employees with the
provisions of the Act.
5.       Annual Reports
The ICC of the
organisation will be required to prepare an annual report and submit the same
to the organisation and to the District Officer.  

6.       Other Compliances:
In addition to the
above, the organisation is required to comply with the following:

(a)     provide a safe working environment at
all the organisation offices which shall include safety from the persons coming
into contact at all the organisation offices;
(b)     provide assistance to the aggrieved
woman if she so chooses to file a complaint in relation to the offence under
the Indian Penal Code(45 of 1860) or any other law for the time being in force;

(c)     cause to initiate action, under the Indian Penal Code or any other law
for the time being in force, against the perpetrator, or if the aggrieved woman
so desires, where the perpetrator is not an employee, in the workplace at which
the incident of 
sexual harassment took place.

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