With so many issues related to working women being reported each day, ensuring implementation of the laws for their protection and welfare becomes essential.
The most recent development is the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The Act extends to working women in all kinds of organisations—private, government, multinational, factories, establishments, shops and even domestic workers. According to the Act, the managements are required to have internal committees to deal with complaints relating to sexual harassment. Then a local committee has to be constituted in districts to address complaints of sexual harassment of women. Proper enquiry is to be conducted on receipt of a complaint. In case the male employee is found guilty, penalty, including dismissal, can be imposed apart from deduction of salary to be paid as compensation to women employee. In case the woman is found guilty of making a false complaint, which of course would mean a complaint not proved, penalty can be imposed upon the women employee as well. The provisions of the Act are mandatory and if not complied with, can result in imposition of fine as well as imprisonment. Criminal actions are also available to women for complaints relating to sexual offences under the Indian Penal Code.
For the benefit of women, several other Acts also exist such as Maternity Benefit Act,1961 which provides for maternity leave. There are Acts governing their working hours as well. Such as Factories Act,1948 and Shops and Establishments Act in states because of which women employees cannot be made to work beyond stipulated hours. Exemptions are available in various states for certain kinds of employment from provisions of working hours, however, proper working conditions, security, transportation, etc. are to be provided.
Even with respect to salary/wages, there cannot be discrimination between male and female workers performing same or similar work. For protection of the same, there is the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. Those working as contract labour are also protected by Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 and the rules there under which stipulate that for same or similar work coupled with other factors, there will be similar wages.
There is no lack of enactments, but there has to be more awareness and implementation, especially in remote areas where women are uneducated, unaware of laws and do not have resources. Unfortunately, in many parts, women are not even aware that they are meant to be protected and respected. Issues of sexual harassment are also seen in smaller companies as well as public departments in cities, where there is lack of proper supervision and inaction. It is suggested that in remote areas, labour inspectors be asked to visit factories and establishments at regular intervals, enforce attendance of women employees, make them aware of laws and take action on problems. All this should be done in writing. In this manner, women would be made aware of laws and there would be fear of violation of laws or committing sexual misconduct. For companies and government departments in cities, it is advisable to have regular awareness programmes.
What our country needs most is awareness, faster procedures, implementation and regular checks. With these, we can achieve much better economic and social conditions. What is required is systematic performance of duties. To ensure the same, procedures need to include time limits, calling of explanations for inaction and corrective actions against those who weaken the system
Govt took 15 years to pass the bill
We should first welcome the government’s move to pass the bill and think of how it will be implemented. It took the government 15 years to pass the bill after the Supreme Court had given directives to implement Vishakha Guidelines in 1997 and suggested there should be a separate law to protect women’s rights. I think it is necessary to protect women from harassments as these problems are quite common at workplace.
The ambit of the Sexual Harassment Act is very wide and is applicable to the organized sector as well as the unorganized sector. In view of the wide definition of ‘workplace’, the statute, inter alia, applies to government bodies, private and public sector organisations, non-governmental organisations, organisations carrying on commercial, vocational, educational, entertainmental, industrial, financial activities, hospitals and nursing homes, educational institutes, sports institutions and stadiums used for training individuals. As per the Sexual Harassment Act, a workplace also covers within its scope places visited by employees during the course of employment or for reasons arising out of employment – including transportation provided by the employer for the purpose of commuting to and from the place of employment2 .
The definition of ’employee’ under the Sexual Harassment Act is fairly wide and covers regular, temporary, ad hoc employees, individuals engaged on daily wage basis, either directly or through an agent, contract labour, co-workers, probationers, trainees, and apprentices, with or without the knowledge of the principal employer, whether for remuneration or not, working on a voluntary basis or otherwise, whether the terms of employment are express or implied.
Internal Complaints Committee and Local Complaints Committee : The Sexual Harassment Act requires an employer to set up an ‘Internal Complaints Committee’ (“ICC”) at each office or branch, of an organization employing at least 10 employees. The government is in turn required to set up a ‘Local Complaints Committees’ (“LCC”) at the district level to investigate complaints regarding sexual harassment from establishments where the ICC has not been constituted on account of the establishment having less than 10 employees or if the complaint is against the employer. The Sexual Harassment Act also sets out the constitution of the committees, process to be followed for making a complaint and inquiring into the complaint in a time bound manner.
The Sexual Harassment Act empowers the ICC and the LCC to recommend to the employer, at the request of the aggrieved employee, interim measures such as (i) transfer of the aggrieved woman or the respondent to any other workplace; or (ii) granting leave to the aggrieved woman up to a period of 3 months in addition to her regular statutory/ contractual leave entitlement.
Please refer to the following flowchart which provides, in brief, the process to be followed by the aggrieved employee to make the complaint and by the employer to inquire into the complaint. The law allows female employees to request for conciliation in order to settle the matter although a monetary settlement should not be made as a basis of conciliation
In addition to ensuring compliance with the other provisions stipulated, the Sexual Harassment Act casts certain obligations upon the employer to, inter alia,
provide a safe working environment
display conspicuously at the workplace, the penal consequences of indulging in acts that may constitute sexual harassment and the composition of the Internal Complaints Committee
organise workshops and awareness programmes at regular intervals for sensitizing employees on the issues and implications of workplace sexual harassment and organizing orientation programmes for members of the Internal Complaints Committee.
treat sexual harassment as a misconduct under the service rules and initiate action for misconduct.