Context: The Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) submitted a report to the city government pointing out the sorry state of affairs in the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act in the union territory.
- The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013.
- It defined sexual harassment, lay down the procedures for a complaint and inquiry, and the action to be taken.
- It broadened the Vishaka guidelines, which were already in place.
- The Vishaka guidelines were laid down by the Supreme Court in a judgment in 1997.
Genesis of Vishaka guidelines:
- This was in a case filed by women’s rights groups, one of which was Vishaka.
- They had filed a public interest litigation over the alleged gangrape of Bhanwari Devi, a social worker from Rajasthan.
- In 1992, she had prevented the marriage of a one-year-old girl, leading to the alleged gangrape in an act of revenge.
Guidelines and the law
- The Vishaka guidelines, which were legally binding, defined sexual harassment and imposed three key obligations on institutions —
- prohibition, prevention, and redress.
- The Supreme Court directed that they should establish a Complaints Committee, which would look into matters of sexual harassment of women at the workplace.
The 2013 Act broadened these guidelines.
- It mandated that every employer must constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at each office or branch with 10 or more employees.
- It lay down procedures and defined various aspects of sexual harassment, including:
- the aggrieved victim,
- who could be a woman of any age whether employed or not,
- who alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment.
- This meant that the rights of all women working or visiting any workplace, in any capacity, were protected under the Act.
Definition of sexual harassment:
- Sexual harassment includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour committed directly or by implication:
- Physical contact and advances
- A demand or request for sexual favours
- Sexually coloured remarks
- Showing pornography
- Any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
- Additionally, the Act mentions five circumstances that amount to sexual harassment
- implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment;
- implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment;
- implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status;
- interference with her work or creating an offensive or hostile work environment;
- humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety.
Procedure for complaint:
- Technically, it is not compulsory for the aggrieved victim to file a complaint for the ICC to act.
- The Act says that if she cannot file a complaint, any member of the ICC shall render all reasonable assistance to her to complain in writing.
- If the woman cannot complain because of physical or mental incapacity or death, her legal heir may do so.
- Under the Act, the complaint must be made within three months from the date of the incident.
- However, the ICC can extend the time limit if it is satisfied that the circumstances were such which prevented the woman from filing a complaint within the said period.
- The ICC may, before inquiry, and at the request of the aggrieved woman, take steps to settle the matter between her and the respondent through conciliation, provided that “no monetary settlement shall be made as a basis of conciliation”.
- The ICC may either forward the victim’s complaint to the police, or it can start an inquiry that has to be completed within 90 days.
- The ICC has powers similar to those of a civil court in respect of summoning and examining any person on oath, and requiring the discovery and production of documents.
- The identity of the woman, respondent, witness, any information on the inquiry, recommendation and action taken, the Act states, should not be made public.
- If the allegations of sexual harassment are proved, the ICC recommends that the employer act in accordance with the provisions of the service rules of the company.
- Compensation is determined based on five aspects:
- suffering and emotional distress caused to the woman;
- loss in career opportunity;
- her medical expenses;
- income and financial status of the respondent; and
- the feasibility of such payment.
- After the recommendations, the aggrieved woman or the respondent can appeal in court within 90 days
- Section 14 of the Act deals with punishment for false or malicious complaint and false evidence.