The Me Too movement has not only reached the shore of Arabian Sea and exposed the dark side of the glamorous Bollywood industry in Mumbai, but also managed to shake Delhi’s power corridors. As more and more professional women come out to narrate their harrowing experiences in the course of their working careers, one wonders if the law is stringent enough to safeguard the fairer sex at workplace. And what happens if a co-worker harasses a woman outside the workplace?
Let’s take a look at how our legal system can assist women employees.
Which law protects women from sexual harassment at the workplace?
In 2013, the Parliament had passed The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. It has broadened the Vishakha guidelines. The law categorically lays down the definition of sexual harassment and vividly describes how the whole procedure – complaint, inquiry and action are to be taken.
What are the Vishakha guidelines?
Vishakha guidelines are considered to be the most powerful tool for women to guard them against sexual harassment and punish the guilty. Supreme Court laid down the norms in ‘Vishaka and others Vs State of Rajasthan and others (JT 1997 (7) sc 384)’.
The public interest litigation was filed by women’s rights groups, including Vishakha in the case of alleged gang-rape of Bhanwari Devi, a social worker from Rajasthan.
Definition of sexual harassment under Vishaka guidelines
Sexual harassment includes physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
Duty and responsibility of employer
The duty and responsibility of preventing, deterring the acts of sexual harassment and provide assistance to the female employee lies with employer or persons concerned at the workplace. The authority needs to provide the procedure for resolution, settlement, prosecute.
The company should notify, publish and circulate the definition of sexual harassment in an appropriate way. The employer must ensure that victims and witness/ witnesses are not victimised. The employer needs to take disciplinary action as per the norms and guidelines.
What happens if harasser is an outsider?
If harassment is committed by a third party or an outsider, the employer sill can take necessary and preventive steps to support the affected person.
Apart from the Vishakha guidelines, women employees can take legal steps under the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act. The steps can be taken under Section 294, Section 354, Section 509 of Indian Penal Code.
The victim can also file a civil suit under tort laws. Under tort laws, cases like loss of income and employment caused by sexual harassment, mental anguish, physical harassment can be filed.