The prevention of workplace sexual harassment act and the prevention of workplace sexual harassment rules have been enacted 16 years after the Supreme Court of India’s landmark judgment in Vishaka and others vs. State of Rajasthan. In the Vishaka judgment, the Supreme Court laid down guidelines making it mandatory for every employer to provide a mechanism to redress grievances pertaining to workplace sexual harassment and enforce the right to gender equality of working women.
The sexual harassment of women at workplace act, 2013 was made effective from December 09, 2013, by the ministry of women and child development, India. The government has also notified rules under the prevention of workplace sexual harassment act titled the sexual harassment of women at workplace rules, 2013.
The prevention of workplace sexual harassment act has been enacted with the objective of preventing and protecting women against sexual harassment at workplace and for the effective redressal of complaints of sexual harassment. The statute seeks to fill the legislative void on the subject and provide every woman, irrespective of her age or employment status, a safe and secure working environment free from all forms of harassment. The year 2013 also witnessed the promulgation of the criminal law act, 2013, which criminalized offences such as sexual harassment, stalking and voyeurism.
Provision under the sexual harassment of women at workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) act, 2013
Applicability and scope:
The prevention of workplace sexual harassment act extends to the ‘whole of India’ and stipulates that a woman shall not be subjected to sexual harassment at her workplace. It is pertinent to note that the statute protects only women and is not intended to be gender-neutral legislation. As per the statute an ‘aggrieved women’ in relation to a workplace, is a woman of any age, whether employed or not, who alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment.
Further, the prevention of workplace sexual harassment act applies to both the organized and unorganized sectors in India. The statute, inter alia, applies to government bodies, private and public sector organizations, non-governmental organizations, organizations carrying out commercial, vocational, educational, entertainment, industrial, financial activities, hospitals and nursing homes, educational institutes, sports institutions and stadium used for training individuals and dwelling place or a house.
Sexual harassment - definition:
The prevention of workplace sexual harassment act defines ‘sexual harassment’ in line with the Supreme Court’s definition in the Vishaka judgment. As per the statute, ‘sexual harassment’ includes unwelcome sexually tinted behavior, whether directly or by implication, such as
Presence or occurrence of circumstances of implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in employment, threat of detrimental treatment in employment; threat about present or future employment, interference with work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment, or humiliating treatment likely to affect the lady employee’s health or safety could also amount to sexual harassment.
The definition of an ‘employee’ under the prevention of workplace sexual harassment act is fairly wide. It covers regular, temporary, ad hoc employees, individuals engaged on a daily wage basis, either directly or through an agent, contract labourers, co-workers, probationers, trainees, and apprentices, with or without the knowledge of the principal employer, whether for remuneration or not, working on a voluntary basis or otherwise, whether the terms of employment are express or implied.
Recognizing that sexual harassment of women may not necessarily be limited to the primary place of employment, the prevention of workplace sexual harassment act has introduced the concept of an ‘extended workplace’. As per the state, ‘workplace’ includes any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including transportation provided by the employer for the purpose of commuting to and from the place of employment.
An important feature of the prevention of workplace sexual harassment act is that it envisages the setting up of grievance redressal forums for both organized and unorganized sectors.
Presiding officer: women employed at a senior level at the workplace from amongst the employees.
Members: not less than 2 members from amongst employees. Preferably committed to the cause of women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge.
External member: from an NGO or association committed to the cause of women or person familiar with issues relating to sexual harassment.
At the district level, the government is required to set up a ‘local complaints committee’ to investigate and redress complaints of sexual harassment from the unorganized sector or from establishments where the ICC has not been constituted or if the complaint is against the employer.
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