The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013. It defined sexual harassment, lay down the procedures for a complaint and inquiry, and the action to be taken. It broadened the Vishaka guidelines, which were already in place.It mandated that every employer must constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at each office or branch with 10 or more employees. It lay down procedures and defined various aspects of sexual harassment, including the aggrieved victim, who could be a woman “of any age whether employed or not”, who “alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment”.
This meant that the rights of all women working or visiting any workplace, in any capacity, were protected under the Act.
#Definition of sexual harassment
Under the 2013 law, sexual harassment includes “any one or more” of the following “unwelcome acts or behavior” committed directly or by implication:
* Physical contact and advances
* A demand or request for sexual favors
* Sexually colored remarks
* Showing pornography
* Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
The Ministry of Women & Child Development has published a Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace with more detailed instances of behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment at the workplace. These include, broadly:
* Sexually suggestive remarks or innuendos; serious or repeated offensive remarks;
inappropriate questions or remarks about a person’s sex life
* Display of sexist or offensive pictures, posters, MMS, SMS, WhatsApp, or emails
* Intimidation, threats, blackmail around sexual favours; also, threats, intimidation or retaliation against an employee who speaks up about these
* Unwelcome social invitations with sexual overtones, commonly seen as flirting
* Unwelcome sexual advances.
The Handbook says “unwelcome behaviour” is experienced when the victim feels bad or powerless; it causes anger/sadness or negative self-esteem. It adds unwelcome behaviour is one which is “illegal, demeaning, invading, one-sided and power based”.Additionally, the Act mentions five circumstances that amount to sexual harassment — implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment; implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment; implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status; interference with her work or creating an offensive or hostile work environment; humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety.