Workplace Harassment law in India

Posted by July 13, 2016

India enacted the law on prevention of sexual harassment law against female employees at the workplace after the nation and the Supreme Court of India woke up to the brutal gang rape of a social worker in Rajasthan in 1997 highlighting the attention absence of domestic law to check the evil of sexual harassment of working women at all work places. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is a legislative act in India that seeks to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on 3rd September 2012 and Rajya Sabha 26th February 2013 and finally the President's assent on 23rd April 2013. The Act came into force from 9th December 2013. The statute superseded the Vishakha Guidelines for prevention of sexual harassment introduced by the Supreme Court of India in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997).

The Act in intends to protect women against direct or indirect sexual harassment at all the places of work, study and service, be it in public or private and stresses upon their right to equality of gender, economic status and working conditions, life, liberty and inclusive growth.

Major Features:

  • • The law is only applicable to women and women only and the "Aggrieved woman", concept is not basis age, employment status or society standing specific.
  • • The Act defines sexual harassment at the work place in act or behaviour, unwelcome sexually determined behavior as physical contact and advances, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. It covers all forms of harassment and creation of hostile work environment.
  • • It creates a mechanism for redressal of complaints by grievance committees within 90 days. Post inquiry the report may be send to the District Officer, as the case may be and they are mandated to take action on the report within 60 days. The law also safeguards against false or malicious charges.
  • • It includes organizations, departments, offices, branches, units, armed forces, women agricultural workers, domestic workers, daily wagers, temporary or permanent, full-time or part-time, as well as volunteers, etc both public and private sector, organized and unorganized, hospitals, nursing homes, educational institutions, sports institutes, sports stadiums, sports complex and any official place of business including tele-commuting.
  • • Every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee at each office or branch with 10 or more employees and the District Officer constitutes a Local Complaints Committee at each district or at block level. The Act requires employers to conduct education and sensitization programmes and develop policies against sexual harassment, among other obligations.
  • • The Complaints Committees have the powers of civil courts for gathering evidence, and can provide conciliation before initiating an inquiry, if requested by the complainant.
  • • The inquiry process under the Act should be confidential and the Act lays down a penalty of Rs 5000 on the person who has breached confidentiality. Non-compliance with the provisions of the Act shall be punishable with a fine of up to ₹ 50,000. Repeated violations may lead to higher penalties and cancellation of license or registration to conduct business. Government can order an officer to inspect workplace and records related to sexual harassment in any organisation. Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 : The Indian Penal Code that stipulates penalties range from one to three years imprisonment and/or a fine and employers are obligated to report offences since it falls under the preview of crime. Compliance to this statute is left to the employers and government is working on further processes to enforce the law across more stringently.

    India's Ministry of Women and Child Development has released a reference handbook on the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 for employers, members of the Internal Complaints Committees and individuals aggrieved by workplace sexual harassment.

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