Discrimination at the work place based on gender, or any form of harassment that makes women employees feel unsafe at their work environment, qualifies as sexual harassment. We have written about the subtle signs of sexual harassment at work earlier. We have been doing some research on this topic and this post focuses on the role and responsibility of an employer in preventing sexual harassment at work. As an employer, it is your foremost duty to ensure a safe and equitable environment for all your employees, regardless of their gender. As an employer, it is also your duty to ensure that there is an efficient mechanism, consistent with the national laws for prevention of sexual harassment at work place. In India, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, (hereby referred to as ‘The Act’) is your reference to setting up the expected grievance and redressal mechanism.
‘Freedom from sexual harassment is a condition of work that an employee is entitled to expect. Women’s rights at the workplace are human rights.’
As an employer, what is expected of you to prevent and address sexual harassment at work place?
- Sexual harassment should be affirmatively discussed at workers’ meetings, employer-employee meetings, etc.
- Guidelines should be prominently displayed to create awareness about the rights of female employees.
- The employer should assist persons affected in cases of sexual harassment by outsiders.
- Central and state governments must adopt measures, including legislation, to ensure that private employers also observe the guidelines.
- Names and contact numbers of members of the complaints committee must be prominently displayed.
Your Responsibilities, according to the Act:
- Recognize sexual harassment as a serious offence.
- Recognize the responsibility of the company/ factory/workplace to prevent and deal with sexual harassment at the workplace.
- Recognize the liability of the company, etc, for sexual harassment by the employees or management. Employers are not necessarily insulated from that liability because they were not aware of sexual harassment by staff.
- Formulate an anti-sexual harassment policy. This should include:
- A clear statement of the employer’s commitment to a workplace free of unlawful discrimination and harassment.
- Clear definition of sexual harassment (using examples), and prohibition of such behaviour as an offence.
- Constitution of a complaints committee to investigate, mediate, counsel and resolve cases of sexual harassment. The Supreme Court guidelines envisage a proactive role for the complaints committee, and prevention of sexual harassment at work is a crucial role. It is thus imperative that the committee consist of persons who are sensitive and open to the issues faced by women.
- A statement that anyone found guilty of harassment after investigation will be subject to disciplinary action.
According to the Act, the range of penalties that the complaints committee can levy against the offender should include:
- Explicit protection of the confidentiality of the victim of harassment and of witnesses.
- A guarantee that neither complainant nor witnesses will be subjected to retaliation.
- Publishing the policy and making copies available at the workplace. Discussing the policy with all new recruits and existing employees. Third-party suppliers and clients should also be aware of the policy.
- Conducting periodic training for all employees, with active involvement of the complaints committee.
There are four perspectives on Sexual Harassment in Workplace (SHW) – Feminist, Legal, and two Organizational aspects. InfochangeIndia.org, explains the four perspectives through this useful table.
Sexual Harassment at Work is Punishable by Law
An employer can be subjected to a penalty of up to INR 50,000 for:
- Failure to constitute Internal Complaints Committee
- Failure to act upon recommendations of the Complaints Committee; or
- Failure to file an annual report to the District Officer where required; or
- Contravening or attempting to contravene or abetting contravention of the Act or Rules.
Where an employer repeats a breach under the Act, they shall be subject to:
- Twice the punishment or higher punishment if prescribed under any other law for the same offence.
- Cancellation/Withdrawal/Non-renewal of registration/license required for carrying on business or activities
Act now! Ensure a Safe Working Environment for your Employees
By ensuring safe and sustainable work environment for your employees, you ensure that their entire focus is on being productive. If your employee does not feel valued, or safe, no matter how talented (s)he is, you will have to let him/her go. One of the biggest drawbacks of the above Act is that it is not gender neutral. Regardless, it is a fact that sexual harassment of women at workplace in India is rampant. As an employer, it all boils down to you – to how serious you are about tackling this grave issue, and how swiftly and efficiently you act against issues of sexual harassment at your workplace. It should be your utmost priority to make your employees feel safe, protected and cared for. That is the biggest investment you can make in your company, and we can assure you, the Return On Investment will be far greater than you ever imagined. Do your bit to guarantee human rights, make your workplace a zero tolerance zone for sexual harassment.