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An Overview of Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplace

Sexual harassment of women at workplace is a form of everyday violence that is discriminatory and exploitative because it threatens women’s right to life and livelihood. It violates a woman’s fundamental rights to equality under Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution and her right to live in dignity under Article 21.

Women’s legal rights have been further reinforced by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against (CEDAW), established by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and ratified by India. It is commonly referred to as an international women’s bill of rights. It promotes gender quality as a human right and fundamental freedom in political, economic, social, cultural and civil areas. It states that discrimination and attacks on women’s dignity violate the equality of rights principle.

Meaning of sexual harassment of women at workplace

Sexual harassment gets characterised as sexual behaviour that is impolite, embarrassing, or intimidating. It can be spoken, written, or physical and can happen in person or online. Anyone, regardless of gender, can be subjected to sexual harassment.

One of these is workplace sexual harassment. Harassment considers various types, which can be harmless and insignificant. Contrary to popular belief, it causes substantial injury and is a clear expression of sex discrimination in the workplace.

The sexual harassment of women at workplace violates a woman’s fundamental rights under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Indian Constitution to “practise any profession or carry out any occupation, trade or business,”.Additionally, it jeopardises employees’ dignity, physical, and mental well-being while undermining equality.

Laws Governing sexual harassment of women at Workplace

In Vishaka & Ors vs State Of Rajasthan & Ors on 13 August 1997 (the “Vishaka Judgment”), the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India recognised the seriousness of sexual harassment of women at workplace. In order to stop sexual harassment of women at work and create procedures for handling, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013 was passed for resolving, settling, or prosecuting cases of sexual harassment.

The Act also specifies the situations in which an act is considered sexual harassment. Such as:

  • An Implied or explicit promise of special treatment at work.
  • An implied or direct threat of negative treatment at work.
  • An implied or explicit threat to her current or future job security.
  • Interfering with her job or creating an intimidating, offensive and unpleasant environment
  • Humiliating treatment that has the potential to harm her health or safety

Features of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act

Preventive measures

All employers or those in the authority of workplaces, public or private, should take adequate measures to prevent sexual harassment. They should take the following steps for the generality of this obligation:

  • The explicit prohibition of sexual harassment of women at workplace should be announced, published, and widely distributed
  • Government and public sector organisations should incorporate laws preventing sexual harassment in their conduct and discipline policies and suitable punishments for offenders.
  • In the case of private employers, it’s essential to take steps to include the prohibitions mentioned above in the Industrial Employment Act.

Criminal proceedings

Where such conduct constitutes a violation of the IPC or any other law, the employer must take necessary legal action through complaint filing with the appropriate authority. When dealing with sexual harassment allegations, it should ensure that victims or witnesses are neither traumatised nor discriminated against.

Disciplinary action

If the conduct amounts to misconduct in the workplace as defined by the applicable service rules, the employer should take appropriate disciplinary action in line with those rules.

Mechanism for complaints

Whether or not such conduct is illegal or violates service standards, an appropriate complaint system should be established in the employer’s organisation to address the victim’s complaint. Such a complaint procedure should ensure timely dealing of issues.

Internal complaints committee

The complaint process should be appropriate per the rules of the complaints committee, a specific counsellor, or other support services, and it’s essential to maintain the confidentiality of the complaints.

A woman should lead the complaints committee and makeup at least half its members. Furthermore, such a complaints committee should include a third party, such as an NGO or other entity familiar with the problem of sexual harassment, to avoid any undue pressure or influence from top levels.

Impact on sexual harassment of women at workplace

Sexual harassment affects everyone because it creates a climate that makes it difficult for employees to succeed. Sexual harassment of women at workplace can have a variety of consequences, some of which are:

Emotional and physical stability

Sexual harassment can put a victim’s emotional and mental health at risk, resulting in low self-esteem and damaging personal relationships. Workplace sexual harassment can create a lot of stress and anxiety. Also, employees who witness workplace harassment are more likely to suffer psychological and physical distress.

Professional and financial challenges

Sexual harassment can harm a victim’s work performance and career path. Because of their anxiety and absence of confidence, some people withdraw from the workplace and isolate themselves from coworkers. They are more inclined to get absent, distracted, and forget their obligations.

If sexual harassment victims report the harassment, they may face the consequences in their careers, including getting passed over for promotions, being left out of critical meetings, retribution, and is considered a troublemaker. Financial issues such as lost earnings and unpaid leave may also arise.

Less company productivity

Sexual harassment harms an organisation. Everybody suffers in the workplace when there is discrimination and harassment. In organisations where sexual harassment is frequent, low productivity is more common. Victims and sexual harassment witnesses are more likely to leave, resulting in high staff turnover and higher hiring and training expenditures.

Same-Sex Harassment

Many believe that sexual harassment exclusively occurs between males and females, but this is far from the truth. Same-sex sexual harassment is just as severe, offensive, and illegal as any other workplace harassment. Women and men may sexually harass someone of the same sex to put them down, force them to quit, threaten, coerce, or harass them through teasing because the harasser is also of the same gender.

How does sexual harassment appear?

The following are examples of sexual harassment:

  • Making sexual favours a condition of work or progress, either expressly or informally.
  • Physical and sexual assault.
  • Sexual favours are requested.
  • It is against the law to make jokes about sexual acts or sexual orientation.
  • Physical contact or touching that is unwanted.
  • Embarrassing sexual advances in inappropriate settings
  • Sexual relations, fantasies, or dreams are discussed.
  • Feeling motivated to have sexual contact with another person
  • Self-examination or sexual practises carried out on one’s own body.
  • Sharing photos, emails, or sexually explicit text messages

#Me Too Movement

Tarana Burke, a New York-based feminist activist, invented the #MeToo slogan in 2006. She intended to empower women victims of sexual harassment by reassuring them that they were not alone and that others had gone through similar experiences.

Sexual harassment and abuse are no longer tolerated. Many people are now willing to debate the concerns and are enthusiastic about doing so. The #MeToo movement has resulted in significant improvements.

#Me Too Movement In India

In India, the #MeToo campaign received attention in 2018. Women from all walks of life spoke out and revealed their stories of abuse by men in positions of authority, inspired by a global campaign against sexual harassment and assault. It all started in October when actress Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment while filming the 2008 picture.

A series of posts by other women followed, in which they shared their stories with the public. Women in the workplace have been called out by actresses, film directors, advertising top guns, artists, writers, and politicians, among others.

Other claims ranged from unwelcome attention in the office to sexual comments on the set. While some still struggle in the sector due to the charges, others got a clean slate from authorities.

Conclusion

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace violates a woman’s right to equality, life, and liberty. It generates an insecure and unfriendly work atmosphere that discourages women from working, undermining their economic and social empowerment and the objective of inclusive growth. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013 was created to prevent and tackle the sexual harassment of women at workplace

India’s laws have worked hard to protect women from sexual harassment. Such legislation has made criminal and civil remedies available at the organisational level; the employer can create a harassment-free atmosphere by enacting policies and procedures.

The sense of security that this organisation’s policy provides can make it easier to perform effectively and efficiently towards a successful conclusion. The institution might provide sexual harassment training, workshops, and educational programmes to avert problems.

FAQs on Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplace

What is the law on Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplace in India?

After the landmark Vishaka's Judgement, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual advances or sexually motivated verbal or physical behaviour.

What is Me Too Movement?

It is a social movement against sexual abuse, harassment, and rape culture in which people speak out about their sexual abuse or harassment incidents.

What is Internal Complaint Committee?

Internal Complaints Committee deals with sexual harassment of women at workplace.

What are the main objectives of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Women at Workplace Act?

The Act aims to Protect, Prevent and Redressal of Complaints women against sexual harassment at work.

About Author

I am a law final year student and an aspirant for Company Secretary (CS) who is keenly interested in Company law and other commercial laws.

I have cracked the first level of the CSEET exam & also I have written a couple of research papers, articles, and blogs few of them got published.

I have worked under a few law firms and gained practical experience in the field of company law, civil law, and criminal law. In my previous internship, I assisted different company & consumer disputes and helped the counsel in researching and drafting.