Crimes against Women and Children: Sexual Harassment the work place

Sexual harassment at the workplace has been one of the central concerns of the women’s movement in India since the ’80s.
In 1997, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment in the Vishakha case laying down guidelines to be followed by establishments in dealing with complaints about sexual harassment. The court stated that these guidelines were to be implemented until legislation is passed to deal with the issue/
Sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as:
a) Physical contact and advances;
b) A demand or request for sexual favours;
c) Sexually coloured remarks;
d) Showing pornography;
e) Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature

Complaints mechanism

• All workplaces should have an appropriate complaints mechanism with a complaints committee, special counsellor or other support services.
• A woman must head the complaints committee and no less than half its members should be women.
• The committee should include an NGO/individual familiar with the issue of sexual harassment.
• The complaints procedure must be time-bound.
• Confidentiality must be maintained.
• Complainants/witnesses should not experience victimisation/discrimination during the process.

Preventive steps

• 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.

Employers’ responsibilities

• Recognise sexual harassment as a serious offence.
• Recognise the responsibility of the company/ factory/workplace to prevent and deal with sexual harassment at the workplace.
• Recognise 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.