The bridge to a safer tomorrow

a guide to Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the workplace

  • Share

Organisations are increasing their focus on fostering a holistic and gender-neutral environment through flexible policies. However, problems relating to sexual harassment (SH) at the workplace have not stopped, despite the fact that women are excelling in all fields in a multicultural environment and there is intense media scrutiny in the corporate world today.

All working women have the right to a safe work environment. Traditionally, the various laws, including the Constitution of India, have implicitly covered the rights of women at workplace. The penal law on sexual harassment has been strengthened through the Criminal Law Amendment related to sections 354A, 354B, 354C and 354D of the Indian Penal Code. The recently enacted Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (the Act) has made women’s right to a safe workplace more explicit and prescribed the responsibilities of the employers.

The Act aims to provide women protection against sexual harassment as well as prevent the same and ensure redressal of complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace. The provisions of the Act aim to protect the interest of all women employees and drive adoption of good governance practices in organisations.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour (whether directly or by implication) namely:

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

Where is it applicable?

Workplace includes:

  1. Any department, organization, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office, branch, or unit which is established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government or the local authority or a Government company or a cooperation or a co-operative society;
  2. Any private sector organization or a private venture, undertaking, enterprise, institution, establishment, society, trust, non-governmental organization, unit or service provider carrying on commercial, professional, vocational, educational, entertainmental, industrial, health services or financial activities including production, supply, sale, distribution or service;
  3. Hospitals or nursing homes;
  4. Any sports institute, stadium, sports complex or competition or games venue, whether residential or not, used for training, sports or other activities relating thereto;
  5. Any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employement including transportation provided by the employer for undertaking such a journey;
  6. A dwelling place or a house

Employers are responsible for implementing the Act in their organisations by:

  • Providing a safe working environment
  • Constituting Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs)
  • Displaying penal consequences of Sexual Harassment (SH) at a conspicuous place/ places at the workplace, including:
    • Penal consequences of sexual harassment
    • Members of the ICC and their contact details
    • Grievance redressal mechanisms
  • Organising awareness programmes for employees
  • Treating sexual harassment as a misconduct under their service rules
  • Initiating action against such misconduct
  • Helping aggrieved women employees file a complaint under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or any other law, if required
  • Initiating action under the IPC or any other law against the perpetrator

A positive perspective

The Act ensures that a thorough and stringent mechanism is established by detailing robust measures that are both proactive and reactive. While its primary objective is to deter sexual harassment of women, it also helps to mitigate risks that could tarnish the image of a company to a significant extent.

EY - benefits of enforcement of robust SH-prevention measures

Investigation process

  • Bringing technology to the table

    Use of technology to determine facts, obtainable through electronic data, such as CCTV recording, hard disk/ mobile imaging, email conversations, attendance logs, etc. can be critical in investigating such claims. Technology holds significant potential, since it enables a timeline to be drawn and can help to establish inconsistencies in information revealed by individuals.

  • An appropriate approach

    The new Act is a key enabler for organisations that seek to implement proactive measures to address cases of harassment at the workplace. It will also drive them to redefine their work policies and inculcate a sense of ethics among their employees. India Inc. needs to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual harassment.

    Furthermore, the establishment of Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs), awareness programs, internal workshops and whistleblowing frameworks is critical for protecting women in a sometimes “hostile work environment.” In addition, organisations should engage in course correction exercises and manage investigations diligently.

  • Malicious complaints

    Accurate sifting of the complaints received is necessary for the mechanism to root out frivolous ones. An effective SH prevention framework should take into account the probability of receiving such complaints and clearly detail the action which should be taken against perpetrators.

EY – investigation process

Next steps

With women-centric policies already in place in organisations, the next step for them is to ensure that they are equally ready to address such situations as and when they arise. Today, most companies are unprepared to deal with actual cases of sexual harassment and are uncertain about how they should undertake adequate and fair investigations into any such allegations.

Proactive preventive measures and policies will be vital for creation of a holistic environment, which is safe for women in corporate India.

Back to Top