The sexual harassment of women at workplace act is the much-awaited development towards ensuring the safety of women. The act broadly covers prohibition, redressal, and prevention of sexual harassment at workplace. Any such incident violates the fundamental rights of a woman to equality under articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India and her right to life and to live with dignity under article 21 of the Constitution and also impacts right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business which includes a right to a safe environment free from sexual harassment.
So, why every corporates in India need to set up the committee to tackle sexual harassment? “It has been mandated by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013 which is an extension of the earlier Vishakha Guidelines. Corporates having 10 or more employees need to set up a committee at each location, so that women can feel comfortable to come forward and make a complaint to local members of the Committee. The committee members are legally obligated to help the woman make the complaint in writing, in case, she is unable to do so for any reason,” explains Vishal Kedia, Founder & Director, Complykaro Services Pvt Ltd.
For this, every employer needs to constitute an internal complaints committee. Corporates having 10 or more employees need to form a Committee consisting of minimum four people at each location. The Committee needs to be headed by a Presiding Officer who has to be a woman employed at a senior level. Apart from the Presiding Officer, the committee needs to have a minimum of 2 other employee members preferably having legal knowledge or having experience in social work or committed to the cause of women. Further, the Committee needs to have an external member who can be a member of an NGO or association committed to the cause of women or somebody who is familiar with issues of sexual harassment.
“At least 50% of the committee members must be women. Hence in a 4 member committee, at least 2 members ought to be women. Though legally all members can be women, it is recommended at least one member to be male so that justice should not only be done but also seem to be done. Another misconception is that the external member ought to be an NGO member only. The same is not true as it can be anybody who is familiar with issues relating to sexual harassment,” adds Vishal.
The new act is much more detailed as it contains specific timelines for each step of the inquiry process. It also provides the time limit of 3 months that has been specified to make a complaint which was missing earlier. There are provisions for confidentiality, conciliation as well as interim relief in the act. The law also provides mandatory training and skill building of Committee members at regular intervals so that they can redress complaints in accordance with principles of natural justice.
Along with this, organizations need to realize that formulating an anti-sexual harassment policy and setting up the committee is not enough. It is important to lay emphasis on towards a behavioral change of employees. Organizations must sensitize employees at regular intervals about the provisions of law through mandatory training.