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HRF representation on ICC for sexual harassment of women in workplaces

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Sir/Madam,

Sub: Sexual Harassment at Workplaces- Constitution of

Internal Complaints Committee– Request- regarding

We believe that you are the head of this organisation. Our information is that there are women employees in your office. If the number of women employees exceeds ten then it is mandatory for you to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) so as to facilitate enquiry into complaints of sexual harassment lodged by your women employees or women at your workplace.

What happens if the ICC is not constituted?

You can be penalised with a fine which may extend up to Rs. 50000. Yes, fifty thousand rupees! If the contravention continues even after the first conviction, you can be penalised with a fine which may extend up to Rs.1 lakh. Not only that. The Government of the Local Authority which granted you licence to run the organisation would cancel it. If your work place is registered, the registration would be withdrawn. If the number of women employees in your office is less than 10 the constitution of the ICC is optional.  If you are an ideal employer, the law does not bar you from constituting an ICC.

Composition of the ICC:

The Committee should consist of a minimum of four members, to be headed by a senior level woman employee. She is the presiding officer of the Committee. Not less than two members shall be from amongst the employees of the organisation. One member shall be from any Non-Governmental Organisation. The members so nominated should possess commitment to the cause of women and/or must be familiar with issues relating to sexual harassment. Half of the committee shall be constituted with women members. The tenure of this committee should not exceed three years.

What should this committee do?

          Whenever any woman at work place or a woman employed at the dwelling place or house is subjected to sexual harassment she can make a complaint in writing to the ICC.  If she cannot make the complaint in writing, the presiding officer or any member of the committee should extend help to the victim to make the complaint in writing. The victim-woman should lodge the complaint within three months of occurrence of sexual harassment. Of course, the ICC may extend time for making complaint for a further period of three months.

What is to be done on receipt of complaint?

          Before commencing enquiry, the committee may take steps for amicable settlement and record the terms of settlement. Payment of money by the respondent should not be the basis of settlement. If no settlement is made then the committee should commence enquiry. If the respondent i.e., the person against whom the complaint is made, is an employee, the enquiry should be in accordance with the service regulations. If there are no service regulations then the enquiry should be according to the procedure as detailed below:

The victim-woman is required to submit six copies of the complaint. Documents she relies upon and the list of witnesses should be enclosed by the complainant. The ICC should issue seven clear days’ notice to the respondent. On receipt of notice, the respondent should file his reply within 10 days. Enquiry should be in accordance with the Principles of Natural Justice. A minimum of three members, including the Presiding Officer should be present at the enquiry.

What is to be enquired into?

          The committee enquires into the fact whether the victim was subjected to sexual harassment by the respondent.

What then is sexual harassment?

          Any of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour of the respondent that is to say:

  1. Physical contact or advances;
  2. A demand or a request for sexual favours;
  3. Making sexually coloured remarks;
  4. Showing pornography;
  5. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

Even if the respondent indulges in any of these acts indirectly then also it amounts to sexual harassment.

Is that all?! No. No. −> Read further, please:

If the respondent does any of the following acts, viz.,

  1. If any promise is made to a woman employee that she would be given preferential treatment in employment;
  2. If the respondent threatens a woman employee that she would be given detrimental treatment in employment;
  3. If the respondent threatens her about her present or future employment status;
  4. If the respondent interferes with her work or creates an intimidating/offensive/hostile work environment for her;
  5. If the respondent treats her in a humiliating manner which may likely affect her health or safety.

These acts, whether done directly or indirectly i.e., whether explicitly or impliedly, would also amount to sexual harassment.

Should a report follow the enquiry?

Yes. The committee has to give its report to the employer. During the pendency of enquiry if the victim requests in writing the committee may recommend:

a) Transfer of victim or respondent to any other workplace;

b) Grant a leave for the victim-woman for a period not exceeding three months;

c) Restraining the respondent from reporting on the work performance of the victim woman employee;

d) Restraining the respondent from writing a confidential report.

If your organisation is an educational institution the Committee may recommend restraining the respondent from supervising any academic activity of the victim woman employee.

What action follows?

          Sexual harassment is misconduct on the part of the respondent. So service regulations would come into action. The punishment would be severe. Written apology, warning, reprimand or censure, withholding of promotion, withholding of pay rise or increments, compelling to do community service are the penalties provided for. The penalty imposed would depend upon the gravity of the sexual harassment. It could be termination from service. The committee may even recommend deduction from the salary of the respondent and payment of the same to the victim-woman.

Your duties

          The employer has to perform certain duties under the Law. They are:

  1. Provide safe working environment;
  2. Prominently display the penalties for sexual harassment;
  3. Organise workshops and awareness programs;
  4. Provide the necessary facilities for the committee for dealing with the complaints and conducting enquiry;
  5. Assist in securing the attendance of the respondent and witnesses before the ICC;
  6. Provide assistance to the woman if she chooses to file complaint to the police or court;
  7. Initiate action against the perpetrator of the crime at workplace;
  8. Making the sexual harassment as misconduct and incorporating the same in the service relations and enumerating the penalties;

 Why should you do these things?

These are mandatory for you under the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. This law was enacted by the Indian Parliament on 22 April, 2013. The Law came into force with effect from 9 December, 2013. The Supreme Court of India, as long back as 1998, has ruled that in order to prevent sexual harassment at workplaces an in-house mechanism is to be constituted. Reference: Visakha vs. State of Rajasthan.

Why this Act?

          Human beings are born free and equal. But some social practices discriminate against women. Employment of women in industry, administration, education and health sectors is indispensable. As time rolls on women are entering every profession, occupation and trade. As a matter of fact one should welcome this trend, for half of the workforce, hitherto confined to homes, is making its presence felt by their contribution. In spite of this, male dominance is placing hurdles in the onward march of women in general and women employees in particular. Many women still shy away from entering the job market and one of the reasons for this reticence is sexual harassment at work places.  Discrimination is the principal source of human rights violation. For the full development of the human personality enjoyment of human rights is indispensable.

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) is committed to the cause of women since we feel patriarchy is one of the sources of human rights violations and sexual harassment is the result of male dominance, a patriarchal practice.

Hope you would, as an ideal employer, constitute the Internal Complaints Committee forthwith and help women employees enjoy their human rights without any hindrance.

Yours truly,

Human Rights Forum

Hyderabad City Unit

 

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