The issue of sexual harassment at workplace has become a serious concern at the workplaces. However, the most astounding fact according to the Indian Bar Association study was that about 70% of women don't report sexual harassment by superiors because they feared repercussions.
In an attempt to address the sexual harassment complaints, Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, launched an online portal SHe-box to help women lodge complaints about sexual harassment.
SHe-box (Sexual Harassment Electronic Box), is an online portal that allows women to lodge complaints about sexual harassment at workplace. This online complaint management system will be hosted on the website of the Ministry of Women and Child Development. A cell under the Ministry will monitor the complaints and share the status with the organization’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). The portal was initially launched in July for government employees. Now, this service is extended to women working in private sector as well.
On the launch of SHe-Box, Manka Gandhi, shared in media saying, “SHe-box’ (sexual harassment electronic box) — would be hosted on the WCD’s website. Harassment could include the use of foul language or cracking lewd jokes.”
Swarnima, Counsel at the employment law practice at Trilegal, in a conversation with People Matters shares that in sexual harassment cases, one of the key challenges is to maintain confidentiality and there are clear obligations under the law which require protection of the identity of not only the complainant but also the respondent.
Swarnima shares that the SHe-Box portal requires filling in names of both the complainant and the accused as well as the name of the head of the organization. The fine print of the terms and conditions state that there is no guarantee of the security of any information disclosed on the portal and the ministry cannot be held for any breach of security. This would be a concern from a confidentiality perspective especially because multiple individuals in the department may have access to this information. In the absence of any clear confidentiality obligations, there is a risk that this information could become public before proper investigation and establishment of guilt.
Mr. Anshul Prakash, Partner at Khaitan & Co. shares,” This step by the Ministry is intended to provide more teeth to the law in force by ensuring better transparency in the way sexual harassment complaints are dealt with and greater accountability of the ICC. The law and rules in force do not prescribe this additional mechanism, therefore, this mechanism could be considered more on the coordination front and ensure that the complaints are redressed and enquired into in a time-bound manner.”
Swarnima shares, “The intent behind introducing the SHe-box appears to be a positive one - to give employees an easy forum to raise complaints. This will push companies to ensure they have set up a proper committee and redressal mechanism so that employees do not feel the need to use the government portal. I do however see challenges with this approach.”