ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Going beyond Lip Service

The shortcomings in the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill, 2010 need to be addressed.

Nearly 13 years after the landmark Vishakha guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace were passed by the Supreme Court pending a suitable legislation, the union cabinet recently cleared the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill, 2010. Despite a number of revisions and widespread debate, the bill has failed to meet the approval of a large number of women’s rights groups and activists.

The bill requires employers to set up internal complaint committees to look into complaints by women employees and transfer them or grant them leave, pending the inquiry. Violation of the provision can attract a fine of Rs 50,000 and twice the punishment with each subsequent offence of a similar nature. The employer may even lose his licence/registration. Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as physical contact and advances, demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks or showing pornography or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature. It covers women clients, customers, apprentices, daily wage workers, and more significantly college students, and hospital patients. The 41.2 million establishments each of which have less than 10 female workers can have local complaints committee to be constituted by the district officer at district or sub-district levels. A woman can complain to any committee. The committee must submit its report in 90 days and employers or district officers must act on its recommendations in 60 days.

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