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Sexual Harassment at Work – Your Role as an Employer

Sexual Harassment at Work – Your Role as an Employer

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.

5 Subtle Signs of Sexual Harassment at Work to Never Ignore

5 Subtle Signs of Sexual Harassment at Work to Never Ignore

Harassment of any kind is a strict no-no in any workplace. And when it comes to sexual harassment, things get even murkier as it is hard for the victim to raise the issue or talk about it. We tend to associate sexual harassment quickly with inappropriate touching or sexual innuendo which are pretty hard to miss but sometimes the signs of sexual harassment at work are so subtle that it may leave one confused and thinking that perhaps “it is all in my imagination”. Women (and men too) are put in many other situations in which they feel uncomfortable but are not confident enough to say so. In the recent years, there has begun a silent (or a not so silent one!) revolution, which has gone on to quickly gain momentum, on sensitizing people about sexual harassment at the workplace, their right to be vocal against it and seek appropriate redressal.

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual behavior – physical, verbal or written – that can make a person feel intimidated or humiliated. If it happens at work, at work-related events, between colleagues in or outside work, this behavior is covered under sexual harassment at the workplace. It is sexual harassment at the workplace if by such behavior, you feel that you need to keep quiet/submit in order to get or keep a job or that your raises/promotions could get impacted or you feel that your work performance is getting affected because of the hostile or offensive working environment created.

Here are 5 signs of sexual harassment at work, which may be subtle but do fall under the ambit of sexual harassment, never to be ignored and should definitely be taken to task promptly or nipped in the bud, so to say :

1. Sexist Behaviour

If you hear comments about why a particular portfolio is not suitable for you simply because you are a woman, or the fact that you got promoted because you are a woman, or the age old jokes about women drivers, realize that you are a victim of sexist behavior. While a lot of people may laugh it off (women included) not many understand that this kind of behavior is extremely demeaning and insensitive. Sexist behavior, including jokes and comments falls under the category of sexual harassment. While it is crucial to be aware of this fact, you must also be extremely discerning before establishing whether or not the particular behavior displayed towards you qualifies as sexual harassment.

2. The apparently “harmless” flirting –

An occasional compliment now and then is of course a common and pleasant thing at work. But not if it gets to the point that it makes you feel awkward or offended. To differentiate between harmless flirting vs. sexual harassment further – harmless flirting makes someone feel “good,” whereas harassment makes someone feel “bad.” Flirting makes someone feel “happy,” while harassment makes someone feel “sad/angry.” Make yourself clear that you are uncomfortable and his/her behavior towards you can be decoded as potential sexual harassment.

3. Bullying by using seniority (or the Quid pro quo stance) –

Another subtle form of sexual harassment. “Come on, are you sure you want to say no to dinner with your team lead?” If that’s the way your team lead asks you out for dinner, despite you saying you have other plans, be sure that the person in question is very consciously making use of his superior position at work to get your attention, and is making it explicit so that you feel powerless. Do not be a push over, and stand firm by what you want for yourself.

4. Inappropriate ‘online’ behavior –

These days, all of us lead most of our lives on the internet. With the private becoming public, professional relations can become truly confusing. However there are some clear signs you should watch out for – emails unrelated to work coming your way at unearthly hours, request to communicate through completely unprofessional media like snapchat, and the likes. Constant IMs, Facebook stalking, are few of the many signs which you shouldn’t ignore.

5. Unwanted and inappropriate information coming your way –

Lewd or inappropriate photographs, even if it is followed by a message saying, “so sorry didn’t mean to send it to you”, unnecessary information about the person’s domestic affairs – the fact that he had a fight with his spouse or his emotional state because of a messy breakup. Put a stop to it right where it begins by making your displeasure over such behaviour explicit.

Kiri Blakeley in her article “Where ‘omg, u look gr8’ can land you in court”, rightly comments – “the new sexual harassment is much more subtle and harder to confront”. Those subtle areas can include everything from flirtation at a company party to a complimentary text message or an unwelcome invitation to discuss the latest project over dinner or drinks. “There’s been a new generation of confusion in this area,” says Jay Zweig, an employment lawyer with Bryan Cave in Phoenix. “Twenty years ago, it was, ‘Sleep with me if you want the promotion.’ Now most sexual harassment claims have to do with a hostile work environment, someone saying, ‘This person is bothering me. I can’t do my work. I’m distracted and uncomfortable.'”

While the post may seem to have a focus on sexual harassment of women, we would like to clarify these signs are not exclusively applicable only to women, but also to men. You could be a male employee and experience any or all of the above forms of sexual harassment, and have every right to stand up against it.

If you are unsure whether the issue you are facing at the workplace has to do with sexual harassment, don’t make the mistake of keeping silent about it and hoping that things will “go away”, talk it out with a trusted colleague or the counsellor at your workplace. Do a favour to yourself and to your colleagues. While it is important to be discerning before you make a complaint of sexual harassment, it is more important to never ignore these signs of sexual harassment at work, howsoever subtle they may be!

Do you have a story to share ? A different view ? Something we missed ? We would love to hear from you. Found this post useful ? Go ahead, share it!

Bonus : For more information on sexual harassment at work, check out this informative (and worrisome) infographic by Cosmopolitan: