Congratulations! After prepping for countless nights and surviving a nerve-wracking interview, you’re ready for the first day of your dream job. But apart from looking for the nearest coffee machine, you should also be asking your boss about a topic you might have missed – sexual harassment. After all, it’s your right.
According to the Supreme Court guidelines in the 1997 Vishakha case, it is “the duty of the employer” in government, public or private organisations to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. The guidelines have been enacted in a legislation called ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013.’ So, here’s a checklist of five questions you need to keep in mind before you start your new job.
1. Is There an Internal Committee to Listen to My Complaint?
Even if you’re an intern, doing voluntary work, or are on contract – any organisation with more than 10 employees needs to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee to prevent and address sexual harassment. The Presiding Officer of the Committee should be a “senior-level woman employee” and one-half of the total Committee members should be women.
2. Who’s On the Committee?
In any office, addressing sexual harassment is complex.
Often, an employee is filing a complaint against her employer – increasing the possibility of intimidation, fear and “undue pressure”.
So, to maintain impartiality, it is stated in the Vishaka guidelines that the complaint committee should also have a “third party”; a representative of an NGO, a lawyer working on social issues etc.
3. How Can I File a Complaint of Sexual Harassment?
Well, first the office you work for should ensure you’re aware of the complaints committee.
A workplace is supposed to “prominently notify the guidelines (and appropriate legislation when enacted on the subject) in a suitable manner.” Then, in case a woman wants to file a complaint, she can do so in writing within three months of the incident.
4. How Will the Complaint Be Heard? Will it Affect My Job?
Once the complaint has been filed, there are two things that can happen.
If the complainant wants, the complaint committee will call for a “reconciliation” before starting an inquiry, according to The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. But no money can be made a part of the settlement.
Otherwise, an inquiry is initiated.
The 2013 Act gives a complaint committee in a workplace the same powers as a civil court. Effectively, this means that the committee can summon either the complainant or accused under oath to make statements.
But what about after a woman files a complaint? The 2013 Act clearly states that any possible intimidation or threat by the employer to a woman, or her job, will further be defined as ‘sexual harassment.’
5. Wait, What Comprises Sexual Harassment?
The 2013 Act have a clear definition of sexual harassment, which includes “unwelcome sexually determined behaviour.” Basically, these five things:
1. Physical contact and advances
2. A demand or request for sexual favours
3. Sexually coloured remarks
4. Showing pornography
5. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature
But by its very nature, sexual harassment is tough to define. So, an easier way to check is by looking at lawyer Karuna Nundy’s “deciding factor” as reported by The Hindustan Times — “a woman’s feeling of discomfort”.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered by many to be an uncomfortable subject. But in that it endangers a woman’s right to continue her work, it is an issue which needs to be addressed.
Persistently, in a loud and clear voice.