Put an End to Sexual Harassment – Don’t Let them Get Away

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Are we really empowered.... women series
  1. Women in IT – Are we really Empowered?
  2. Put an End to Sexual Harassment – Don’t Let them Get Away

Why do we need Complaints Committee in all Companies/Firms?

NCW (National Commission for Women) says that about two women were harassed at their workplace in India every day as per the stats in 2017 (as on Dec, 17 2017). The cumulative data with NCW since 2014 shows that there were 1.8 complaints per day. Though the numbers are alarming we know that not all harassments are reported.

Until a few years back, we would have come to know such incidents/complaints only through news channels/daily papers. But, now the victim is one amongst us; could be one of our friend/colleague/family member.

As working women most of us have experienced/heard one or other form of harassment/unwelcome act or behavior at our own workplace. Majority of us don’t know how to deal with them since the harassments are often done by the superiors (only in designation and role) in the company/firm or the colleagues of same cadre who has good rapport with the superiors.

Promotion, Rating, work-related stress, Insults and humiliations, Hike/Incentives, Loss-of-pay, irregular shift timings, future employment, etc., are the key elements often used to threaten women when they try to disclose/share such discomfort with others in the initial stage. It is really shocking to see the increasing crime rate against women despite having many strict laws favoring woman.

In most of the cases the harassment begins as professional harassment and eventually ends up as sexual harassment. In such incidents, most of us try to get rid of such harassment by getting release from project/ change the facility even by changing the company than teaching the assailant a lesson legally. As per TOI (Times of India), 69% of the victims did not complain on harassment at workplace (Workplace includes office premises, company sites, training centers and even transportation provided by the employer). The major reason being lack of awareness on women’s laws and complaint mechanisms.

Let’s have a quick look at a few….

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Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013

Sexual Harassment includes one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behavior whether directly or by implications namely,

  • Physical contact or advances;
  • A demand or request for sexual favors;
  • Making sexually colored remarks;
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

Refer page 8 to 11 of the Handbook in the link for detailed explanation/identification of unwelcome behavior and examples.

As per the law, every employer of a workplace shall, by an order in writing, constitute a committee to be known as “Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)”. Provided that where the offices or administrative units of the workplace are located at different places or divisional or sun-divisional level, the Internal Committee shall be constituted at all administrative units or offices.

Sexual Harassment

In most of the cases the harassment begins as professional harassment and eventually ends up as sexual harassment

Internal Committee shall consist of the following members to be nominated by the employer, namely –

  • A Presiding Officer who shall be a woman employed at a Senior level at workplace from amongst employees;
    o Provided that in case a senior level employee is not available, the Presiding officer shall be nominated from other offices or administrative units of the workplace;
    o Provided further that in case the other offices or administrative units of the workplace do not have senior level woman employee, the Presiding Officer shall be nominated from any other workplace of the same employer or other department or organization;
  • Not less than two members from amongst employees preferably committed to the cause of women or person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment.
    o   Provided that at least one-half of the total members so nominated shall be women.
  • Presiding Officer and every member of the Internal Committee shall hold office for such period, not exceeding three years, from the date of their nomination as may be specified by the employer.

Where the Presiding Officer or any Member of the Internal Committee,

  • contravenes the provisions of section 16; or
  • has been convicted for an offence or an inquiry into an offeree under any law for that time being in force is pending against him; or
  • he has been found guilty in any disciplinary proceedings or a disciplinary proceeding is pending against him; or
  • he has so abused his position as to render his continuance in office prejudicial to the public interest,

such Presiding Officer or Member, as the case may be, shall be removed from the Committee and the vacancy so created or any casual vacancy shall be filled be fresh nomination in accordance with the provision of the section.

A woman journalist harassed by a senior functionary in public

Local Complaints Committee:

The Government should appoint a District Officer who can be District Magistrate or Additional District Magistrate or the Collector or Deputy Collector as a District Officer to discharge the functions of the Act. The District Officer should constitute a “Local Complaints Committee” to receive complaints from establishments where the Internal Complaints Committee has not been constituted due having less than 10 employees or the complaint is against the Employer himself;

Content of the complaint:

The complaint should contain the description of incident(s), date(s), timings, respondent’s name and the working relationship between the parties.

What can an employee (complainant) expect from ICC:

Employee/worker has a right to expect a trained, skilled and competent Complaints Committee, a time bound process, information confidentiality, assurance of non-retaliation, counselling or other enabling support where needed and assistance if the complainant opts for criminal proceedings.

Rights of the complainant:

  • An empathetic attitude from the Complaints Committee so that she can state her grievance in a fearless environment.
  • A copy of the statement along with all the evidence and a list of witnesses submitted by the respondent
  • Keeping her identity confidential throughout the process
  • Support, in lodging FIR in case she chooses to lodge criminal proceedings
  • In case of fear of intimidation from the respondent, her statement can be recorded in absence of the respondent
  • Right to appeal, in case, not satisfied with the recommendations/findings of the Complaints Committee

Sexual Harassment Complaint Process:

Recommendations of the ICC/LCC:

Based on its findings, the Complaints Committee shall then make appropriate recommendations which may include:

  1. Where the Complaints Committee is unable to uphold the complaint, it shall recommend no action.
  2. Where the Complaints Committee upholds the Complaint, it may recommend such action as stated within the relevant Policy or Service Rules, which may include a warning to terminate.

In case service rules do not exist, recommended action may include:

  • Disciplinary action, including a written apology, reprimand, warning, censure;
  • Withholding promotion/ pay raise/ increment;
  • Termination;
  • Counselling;
  • Community service.

The Complaints Committee may also recommend financial damages to the complainant, while deciding the amount they shall take into consideration:

  • Mental trauma, pain, suffering and emotional distress caused;
  • Medical expenses incurred;
  • Loss of career opportunity;
  • Income and financial status of the respondent. If the amount is not paid it can be recovered as an arrear of land revenue.

The Complaints Committee can also give additional recommendations to address the underlying factors contributing to sexual harassment at the workplace.

Final Report prepared by ICC/LCC:

The Complaints Committee will prepare a final report that contains the following elements:

  • A description of the different aspects of the complaint;
  • A description of the process followed;
  • A description of the background information and documents that support or refute each aspect of the complaint;
  • An analysis of the information obtained;
  • Findings as stated above;
  • Recommendations.

An inquiry must be completed within 90 days and a final report submitted to the Employer or District Officer (as the case may be) within ten days thereafter. Such report will also be made available to the concerned parties. The Employer or District Officer is obliged to act on the recommendations within 60 days. Any person not satisfied with the findings or recommendations of the Complaints Committee or non-implementation of the recommendations, may appeal in an appropriate court or tribunal.

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Now we are ended up with the question, why such harassments are still happening and why the victim is not given justice in spite of having structured laws?

Supreme Court Advocate, K V Dhananjay says one major problem with the existing system is that there are no penalties for committees within companies which are not acting on the complaints or in many cases further harassing the victims. 8 out of 10 firms/companies do not have a functional committee. Potentially bigger firms/companies are sincerer in placing the committee but most of them fail in addressing the concerns of women, and no legal action is taken.

Let’s check out in our company and confirm whether they are functioning according to the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. If they are no complaint mechanism or not a functioning model, we can voice out and emphasize that the employers to have it in practice.

Sources:

– Poongodi

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