May 11, 2023

The Law On Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Recently, seven women wrestlers including a minor, petitioned the Supreme Court, seeking registration of an FIR for sexual harassment against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the President of the Wrestling Federation of India. Several athletes, including Olympic bronze medal winners Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia and Commonwealth Games gold medal winner Vinesh Phogat, are sitting in-protest at Jantar Mantar, Delhi seeking action against Singh. A bench headed by the CJI said that the matter requires serious consideration and issued a notice to the Delhi Police in the case. 

The protests first started on January 18th. On January 23rd, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports formed an oversight panel headed by boxer Mary Kom to investigate the matter. The Committee submitted its reports in April but the findings have not been made public yet. The Wrestling Federation of India had no Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to deal with allegations of sexual harassment. 

In light of these developments, lets take a look at what the law says about incidents of sexual harassment at the workplace and why having an ICC is important.

Who can be recognised as a survivor of sexual harassment?

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. currently only recognises women as possible survivors of sexual harassment. Women have legal protection if they are facing sexual harassment and can be considered any of the following:

  • Employee
  • A full-time employee
  • A part-time employee
  • A contractual employee
  • Working for compensation
  • Any woman in relation to any kind of a workplace, like an office, a household, etc.

Which actions can be considered sexual harassment?

In addition to acts like touching or unwanted physical contact, showing pornography, asking or demanding sexual favours, etc, certain circumstances connected with any act or behaviour of sexual harassment may also amount to sexual harassment of a woman. These include: 

  • implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment; or
  • implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in her employment ; or
  • implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status; or
  • interference with her work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her; or
  • humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety.

What is an Internal Complaints Committee?

Workplaces with more than 10 employees are required to set up a committee that specifically handles cases of sexual harassment. This is known as the Internal Committee. It must have:

  • A presiding officer, who is a woman employed at a senior level
  • Three students, if the matter involves students
  • One member from a non-government organisation or association committed to the cause of women, or a person familiar with sexual harassment issues. This member will be paid.
  • Women as at least half of its members
  • No person in senior administrative positions as a member such as Vice-chancellor, Registrar, Dean, or head of department

All members serve a three-year term. Higher education institutions can also employ a system where one-third of the members change every year.

Compensation for Sexual Harassment: 

The amount of money that survivors will receive as compensation is based on the following things:

  • Mental trauma and distress caused to the survivor
  • Lost job opportunities because of the sexual harassment
  • Medical treatment (physical or psychiatric) that the survivor needs
  • The survivor’s income and general financial status.

The Committee can decide whether this money should be paid over time in instalments or all at once.

What to do if there is no ICC in your workplace?

If you belong to an unorganised sector or a small establishment that does not have an Internal Complaints Committee, you can approach the Local Complaints Committee that has been set up by the District Officer. The Local Committee accepts complaints from:

  • Women working in an organisation having less than 10 employees
  • Domestic workers
  • When the complaint is against the employer himself

To learn more about filing a complaint against sexual harassment, you can click the link given here.

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