In India, women account for a substantial number of workforce, it is therefore necessary to afford them with the safety and security they need to successfully carry out their workplace duties and responsibilities. Even though efforts have been made to empower women, their empowerment and their safety at the workplace have always been at loggerheads. Inorder to protect women against sexual harrasment at worplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment the Government of India legislated the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
An employer plays an instrumental role in protecting women from sexual harassment at workplace. An employer has both a moral as well as legal obligation to protect women working for them from any untoward incident that may occur at their workplace or in the course of her employment and is therefore, delegated with substantial responsibilities under the Act.
This blogs elucidates and focuses on all duties and responsibilities an employer has under the Act.
Sexual Harassment at workplace: Meaning
Sexual harassment at workplace in is simply any unwelcome act or behaviour. It could be physical contact and advances which are sexual in nature, a demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, any other unwelcome physical verbal or non verbal conduct of sexual nature.
Duties of an Employer under the Act
As mentioned in the introduction, an employer plays an integral role in protecting women from sexual harassment at workplace and is therefore delegated with a number of duties and responsibilities. Enlisted hereunder are the duties and responsibilities of every employer in relation to Sexual Harassment of women at workplace.
Providing a safe and secure workplace environment
The primary duty of an employer is to provide a safe working environment to all women employees. This entails providing safety from the persons coming into contact at the workplace or otherwise in the course of employment, such as places the employees may visit because of their employment.
Constitution and administration of the Internal Committee (IC)
Every employer employing 10 or more workers shall set up a committee called the Internal Committee (IC) in the workplace for the redressal of complaints of sexual harassment. Such Committee is constituted and notified by a written order by the employer. The employer should nominate the following members to constitute the committee:
Minimum Number of Nominees
a woman employed in senior level at workplace from amongst the employees. If there is no senior women in the organisation she can be nominated from a different organisation.
Nominated from amongst employees preferably committed to the cause of women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge.
From an NGO or association committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harrasment.
Please note that this is the minimum required number. An employer may decide to nominate additional members.
The employer should display the order of constitution of the IC in any conspicuous place in the workplace specifying the IC.
An employer should display a notice in any conspicuous place in the workplace stating the penal consequences for acts of sexual harassment.
In order to sensitize employees regarding sexual harassment laws, it is the duty of every employer to organise workshops and awareness programmes at regular intervals.
Along with sensitizing employees the employer should undertake orientation programmes for the members of the IC.
Assisting and monitoring the IC
Once the IC decides on a complaint, it makes a recommendation to the employer about the course of action. Upon receipt of such instructions and recommendations from the IC, the employer must take within sixty (60) days.
An employer should provide all facilities necessary to the IC or the Local Complaints Committee (LCC) (a committee constituted at district level for the redressal of complaints of sexual harassment in case the number of employees employed are less than 10 or if the repondent is the employer himself) for dealing with the complaints of sexual harassment and for conducting inquiries.
An employer should assist IC or the LCC as the case may be for securing the attendance of respondents and witnesses.
An employer must make available all information within its power, in relation to the complaint of sexual harassment to the IC or the LCC.
An employer should monitor whether all annual and other reports required to be furnished by the Internal Committee are submitted in a timely manner.
Providing Assistance to Aggrieved women
An employer should provide all assistance necessary for a woman to file a complaint if she chooses to file a complaint with the police in relation to the offence under IPC or any other Law.
An employer shall ensure that upon such complaint being made, the aggrieved woman does not face the perpetrator. An employer may decide to transfer the perpetrator to another office within its control during the pendency of proceedings with the IC. However, the employer cannot transfer the aggrieved woman in such cases.
An employer should necessarily initiate an action under any other applicable law, against the perpetrator employed in the workplace or if the aggrieved women so desires against the perpetrator who is not an employee in the workplace at which the incident of sexual harassment took place.
Treating sexual harassment as misconduct
It is the duty of every employer to treat sexual harassment as misconduct in the same manner it is treated under the service rules and accordingly initiate action for such misconduct. Sexual harassment has to be dealt with in the same manner as any other acts of misconduct.
If any woman or any other person on her behalf makes a complaint of sexual harassment and the ICC or the LCC arrives at a conclusion that such complaint is malicious and false and accordingly make recommendations in this regard, the employer is required to take action against such a woman or any other person making such malicious and false complaint.
Penalties for non-compliance of provisions by employer
If an employer contravenes the provisions of the Act is liable for a fine of Rupees. 50,000/-. If an employer repeats an offence he/she shall be made liable to pay a higher amount of fine and it may also lead to cancellation of his/her license or withdrawal or non-renewal or approval or cancellation of the registration, by the government or local authority, which are required to carry on his/her business or activity.