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Prevention and prohibition of sexual harassment at workplace

The Employer and the government are responsible and accountable to prevent workplace sexual harassment in compliance with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.

Preventive Authorities

Who is an Employer?

An employer refers to:

  1. The head of the department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office, branch or unit of the Appropriate Government or local authority or such officer specified in this behalf.
  2. Any person (whether contractual or not) responsible for the management, supervision and control of a designated workplace not covered under clause (i).
  3. A person or a household who employs or benefits from the employment of domestic worker

Who is an appropriate Government?

As per the Act, Appropriate Government means:

  1. In relation to a workplace which is established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly—
    • i. By the Central Government or the Union Territory administration, the Central Government;
    • ii. By the State Government, the State Government;
  2. In relation to any workplace not covered under sub-clause (i) and falling within its territory, the State Government.

Who is a District Officer (DO)?

State Governments will notify a District Magistrate/Additional District Magistrate/ Collector/ Deputy Collector as a District Officer at the local level. The District Officer will be responsible for carrying out the powers and functions under the Act at the district levels (including every block, taluka, tehsil, ward, and municipality).

Responsibilities of the aforementioned authorities

Under the law, the employer/DO is obliged to create a workplace free of sexual harassment. It is the responsibility of the Employer/District Officer in general to:

  1. Create and communicate a detailed policy;
  2. Ensure awareness and orientation on the issue;
  3. Constitute Complaints Committee/s in every workplace and district so that every working woman is provided with a mechanism for redress of her complaint(s);
  4. Ensure Complaints Committees are trained in both skill and capacity;
  5. Prepare an annual report and report to the respective state government;
  6. District Officer will also appoint a nodal officer to receive complaints at the local level.

Complaints Committee/s

The Act provides for two kinds of complaints mechanisms: Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and Local Complaints Committee (LCC). All Complaints Committees must have 50 per cent representation of women. ICC or LCC members will hold their position not exceeding three years from the date of their nomination or appointment.

1. Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)

Every employer is obliged to constitute an ICC through a written order. The ICC will be composed of the following members:

No

Member

Eligibility

1.

Chairperson

Women working at senior level as employee; if not available then nominated from other office/units/ department/ workplace of the same employer

2.

2 Members

(minimum)

From amongst employees committed to the cause of women/ having legal knowledge/experience in social work

3.

Member

From amongst NGO/associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issue of Sexual Harassment

Where the office or administrative units of a workplace are located in different places, division or sub-division, an ICC has to be set up at every administrative unit and office.

2.  Local Complaints Committee (LCC)

The District Officer will constitute an LCC in every district so as to enable women in the unorganised sector or small establishments to work in an environment free of sexual harassment. The LCC will receive complaints:

  1. From women working in an organisation having less than 10 workers;
  2. When the complaint is against the employer himself;
  3. From domestic workers.

No

Member

Eligibility

1.

Chairperson

Nominated from amongst the eminent women in the field of social work and committed to the cause of women

2.

Member

Nominated from amongst the women working in the block, taluka or tehsil or ward or municipality in the district

3.

2 Members

Nominated from amongst such NGO/associations/persons committed to the cause of women or familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment, provided that:

  • At least one must be a woman
  • At least one must have a background of law or legal knowledge

4.

Ex Officio member

The concerned officer dealing with social welfare or women and child development in the district

External Members on the Complaints Committee/s

The Act refers to external members, which generally means persons who have expertise with the issue of sexual harassment. Given the largely intangible nature of workplace sexual harassment, there are a range of complexities involved in responding effectively to workplace sexual harassment complaints. For this reason, external third party/ members on the Complaints Committee/s (from civil society or legal background) should possess the following attributes:

  1. Demonstrated knowledge, skill and capacity in dealing with workplace sexual harassment issues/complaints;
  2. Sound grasp and practice of the legal aspects/implications.

Such expertise will greatly benefit Complaints Committees in terms of fair and informed handling of complaints to lead to sound outcomes. These external third party members shall be paid for their services on the Complaints Committees as prescribed.

Criteria for the External Member

A ‘person familiar with issues relating to women’ would mean such persons who have expertise in issues related to sexual harassment and may include any of the following:

  • At least 5 years of experience as a social worker, working towards women’s empowerment and in particular, addressing workplace sexual harassment;
  • Familiarity with labour, service, civil or criminal law.

Sexual harassment at workplace policy

Employers/District Officers are responsible for complying with prohibition, prevention and redress of workplace sexual harassment. In practice, this means having a policy that:

  • prohibits unwelcome behaviour that constitutes workplace sexual harassment;
  • champions prevention of workplace sexual harassment through orientation, awareness and sensitization sessions; and
  • provides a detailed framework for redressal.

Dissemination of information and awareness generation

Employers/ District Officers have a legal responsibility to:

  1. Effectively communicate a policy that prohibits unwelcome behaviour that constitutes workplace sexual harassment, and provides a detailed framework for prevention, and redress processes.
  2. Carry out awareness and orientation for all employees.
  3. Create forums for dialogue i.e. Panchayati Raj Institutions, Gram Sabhas, Women’s Groups, Urban Local Bodies or like bodies, as appropriate.
  4. Ensure capacity and skill building of Complaints Committees.
  5. Widely publicize names and contact details of Complaints Committee members.

Source : Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace



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