Category Archives: Labour Law (Including Factories Act, Shops and Establishments Act and Industrial Disputes Act)

Workplace Woes: A brief introduction to the Indian law on sexual harassment at work

Sexual harassment of a woman can range from teasing and irritation (sexual innuendoes, inappropriate sexual gestures and propositions for dates or sexual favours) to actual and unwanted physical contact (pinching, grabbing, hugging, patting, brushing against and touching). With more and more women going out to work, the risk of their being subjected to some sexual harassment at their workplace has also increased.

This is not a new phenomenon however. A famous case, dating back to 1985, involved an airhostess at Saudi Arabian airlines, who refused to accept the pilot’s advances. Instead of taking action against the pilot, the airline fired the woman. She filed a case which after eight years was decided in her favour, but later stayed by the High Court of Mumbai. A shocking six out of ten women have reportedly faced some annoyance in their workplace from a male co-worker, and the law in India took its own sweet time catching up.

What is the position of the law today?

As a matter of fact, Parliament has yet not enacted a sound law, and the Supreme Court finally out of frustration passed 12 guidelines.

The guidelines make it mandatory for every employer to have a ‘sexual harassment committee’ in the workplace. At least half the members must be women and it must be headed by a woman. Intelligently, an NGO must be a part so that the senior staff does not influence the committee.

Every organization must allow women workers to speak out against sexual harassment, as per the guidelines. A woman must be given an opportunity to present a complaint, which will be examined by the ‘sexual harassment committee’. In serious cases, the employer must be proactive and file a criminal complaint.

Does the law do enough?

It would be better if there was a clear cut law, like the law on Domestic Violence, for sexual harassment as well, since a working women spends most of her day, and life, at the workplace. Till such a law comes, these guidelines will have to be used efficiently. Also, measures on the part of women, like dressing appropriately, and strongly resisting any advances the first time itself, can help.

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