It is difficult to truly redress the loss caused to a victim of sexual harassment. The offence can be seriously detrimental to the victim, emotionally and psychologically. In such situations, where the legal redress alone, including compensation, is not sufficient to provide justice to the wronged, preventive measures are just as important. Recognising this, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Protection and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Sexual Harassment Act”) provides some measures that aspire to discourage and stop behaviour that amounts to the sexual harassment of women at workplaces. Let us have a look at some of them.
Employer’s duty to spread awareness
Employers and local governments are now obligated to spread awareness of sexual harassment and the penal liabilities for the offence under the Sexual Harassment Act. The law urges employers and the government to organise workshops and awareness programs. This includes, under Sections 19(b) and (c), the employer’s responsibility to display information at conspicuous locations around workplaces.Dissemination of information about the strict penal liabilities will act as a deterrent. If the employer does not discharge these responsibilities, the organisation can attract a penalty.
Simple complaint process, approachable ICCs
The law has also provided a simple complaint process for aggrieved women. Every workplace must necessarily have an Internal Complaints Committee (“ICC”). In addition to this, every “District Officer” must set up Local Complaints Committees to hear complaints against employers or complaints of sexual harassment where ICCs are not available. More than half the members of any ICC will comprise of women, including women who are familiar with the law or with women’s rights. The presiding officer will be a senior woman employee and the committee also has to include a woman from outside the organisation who works for the cause of women. The committee members are also bound to confidentiality. All these measures make ICCs more approachable for aggrieved women.
All complaints reported to the ICC have to be submitted to the local government annually. These records will definitely provide valuable information for future amendments to the legislation. This progressive feature shows that the law wants to prevent such offences, and develop a culture that allows women to be safe from sexual harassment in the workplace. The annual records will disclose much needed information on the actual incidents of sexual harassment. These reports will become the test of the actual application or implementation of the law and tell us its shortcomings and possibly some relevant tendencies, which have allowed the offence to occur. This provision will guide lawmakers to adopt more focused preventive measures through future amendments of the law.
Employer’s assistance in filing criminal complaints
The employer also has to assist the aggrieved woman if she wants to file a criminal complaint under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Criminalising the act of sexual harassment shows how serious the law is against the offence of sexual harassment, for which no tolerance will be shown from the workplace. Criminal liability is the strongest deterrent yet in preventing men from sexually harassing women at workplaces.
With these preventive measures, women will be more confident knowing they can expect support and understanding from their employers. Aware women and a management that is legally bound to act will definitely help prevent such behaviour at the workplace.
Tenzin Namdol is part of the faculty on myLaw.net.