Sexual harassment at the workplace can be one of the most harrowing experiences anyone can go through. And with more women entering the workforce, it becomes far more imperative to know what ought to be done in situations where someone is facing harassment.
Understanding what constitutes sexual harassment at the workplace
Image for representation. Photo source: Facebook
According to the Supreme Court of India, sexual harassment is any kind of “sexually determined” behaviour that is deemed unwelcome. This could be both direct and it could be through implication as well.
The SC notes that this behaviour could be in the form of:
1) Physical contact and advances
2) A demand or request for sexual favours
3)Sexually coloured remarks
4) Showing pornography
5) Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature
If you or someone you know is being sexually harassed at the workplace, then here’s what you could do to immediately address it:
Read company guidelines
At the time of joining, employees are given an agreement by the organisation that has all the company guidelines. When faced with a situation where you are being harassed at the workplace, go back to the original agreement. Take time to go through the company’s policies and also the rules set in place. Also, review your own original contract with the organisation. By the law, companies are required to create and communicate a detailed policy on sexual harassment. If it doesn’t exist, insist on it.
Set upa meeting with HR
Being a sensitive topic, a one-on-one meeting would be most advantageous. Generally, there is a Human Resource personnel in place who can be contacted to lodge a complaint. A face-to-face meeting would be ideal as the discussion would allow the HR to ask you follow-up questions and will also give you a chance to elaborate on your side of the story.
Make sure your complaint contains salient data like relevant dates, locations, working relationship, timings etc. The more information and details you can add, the better it would serve you.
Make sure there is a paper trail
A verbal complaint can sometimes enter murky waters as it can devolve into a “he said, she said” argument. Hence, once the meeting has been conducted, send an email or letter containing points that were discussed during the meeting back to the HR. Insist on all follow-up discussions also be recorded through emails. Having rock-solid documentation and a paper-trail will protect you in case you face problems as a result of this in the future.
Be aware of the law
The law that protects women against sexual harassment at the workplace is called Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The act also covers students in schools and colleges, patients in hospitals, sports institutes and more (click here for the complete list and a comprehensive guide issued by the Ministry on the Act).
Organisations must instate an ICC
It dictates that every workplace that has more than 10 employees constitute an internal complaints committee (ICC) to help address sexual harassment. The inquiry process has to be kept anonymous in order to protect the identities of those interviewed. At least 50% of the committee should consist of women.
Be aware of the timelines
The law notes that the aggrieved woman can make the complaint (either by writing or verbally) within three months of the incident. If she is unable to do so, then a relative, friend or co-worker can lodge a complaint as long as they have the written consent of the woman.
Hence, make sure the complaint falls within the specified timeline. Once the complaint has been lodged, the responder has to be issued a notice within seven days of having received it. And the inquiry has to be completed within a period of 90 days. Once it has been completed, a report has to be issued within 10 days.
Click here to contact Breakthrough India, an organisation that works to empower and aid women who are harassed.