Law on Sexual harassment at Workplace

The Government of India had promulgated The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Act”) and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Rules, 2013 (“Rules”) with effect from 9th December, 2013.

  • Who is an employer under the Act?
    Under Section 2 (g) of the Act, employer has been defined to mean any person responsible for the management, supervision and control of the workplace and management includes the person or board or committee responsible for formulation and administration of polices for such organisation.
    The employer is duty bound to initiate disciplinary action against the officer involved in sexual harassment, as it involves human dignity of women enshrined under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution and the inquiry must be fair and reasonable.
  • What are the duties of employer?
    To establish an Internal Complaints Committee
    An employer must establish an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at the office or branch where at least 10 employees are working. An ICC needs to be constituted even if there are no women employees working at present at the establishment. The employer needs to constitute an ICC at every office or branch of the company where 10 or more employees are working.

To implement a well-drafted POSH Policy: 
The employer has the obligation to put in place, a well-drafted and customised anti-sexual harassment policy, drafted by an experienced employment and labour lawyer in India. A copy-paste policy or a policy copied from the POSH template policies available online would not work as these policies do not meet the actual standards laid down under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013.

To treat sexual harassment as misconduct: The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act states that any instance of sexual harassment must be treated as misconduct. The employment agreements, service rules, policies and procedures and standing orders must clearly state that sexual harassment will be treated as misconduct. The repercussions of sexual harassment must also be clearly stated like deducting wages, termination of employment, additional penalties, etc.

To display the consequences of sexual harassment: The employer must exhibit the penal consequences of sexual harassment and the order of the Internal Complaints Committee at a clearly visible place at the place of employment.

To sensitise employees regarding sexual harassment at workplaceAll employers have the responsibility to apprise and sensitise employees regarding the issue of sexual harassment. The employers must conduct workshops and organise seminars to raise awareness amongst the employees regarding workplace sexual harassment. The Central Government rules under the Sexual Harassment Act require the employer to participate in the following activities:

  • Circulate the POSH policy against sexual harassment at workplace.
  • Execute orientation programmes for members of the Internal Complaints Committee.
  • Conduct capacity and skill-enhancing seminars for the ICC members.
  • Carry out awareness programmes and forums with Women groups, Panchayati Raj, Local authorities, etc.
  • Report the names and details of the ICC members in the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Policy.

To prepare the Annual Report: Companies, societies and trusts are required to file an annual report regarding the sexual harassment complaints received and their current status. The companies registered in India need to file this annual report with the Registrar of Companies; societies and trusts need to file this report with the Charity Commissioner or Registrar of Societies. However, sole proprietorships, partnership firms and LLPs do not need to file this annual report, rather, they need to inform the District Officer appointed under the POSH Act about the sexual harassment cases filed with the organisation and their status.

To assist the employee in reporting the incident of sexual harassment: The employer is also responsible to aid the employee in filing a complaint against the accused and help her in taking a legal action, including a criminal measure. The employer may also choose to initiate a complaint against the accused if the woman employer desires.

Penalties on failure to comply?
Failure to comply with this could lead to hefty penalties. Some of the provisions under the POSH Law include:

When the employer fails to constitute an Internal Committee or breaches provisions of this Act or any rules made thereunder, they shall be punishable with fine of fifty thousand rupees(INR 50,000).

If any employer, after having been previously convicted of an offence punishable under this Act, subsequently commits and is convicted of the same offense, he shall be liable to twice the punishment.

Extended penalties shall be
– Cancellation or withdrawal of his license.
– Non-renewal, or cancellation of the registration.

Benefits of conducting workshop/awareness/training programme

1. Higher job satisfaction and employee engagement

2. Higher productivity and collaboration among employees

3. Higher retention of valuable employees and talent

4. Improvement in workplace culture

5. Respect for colleagues

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