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Implementing or Ignoring the Law on Sexual Harassment?

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013 but not many companies in Mumbai have taken its provisions seriously or formed the mandatory internal complaints committees. A survey of how complaints by women were treated by some companies and what the internal committee members had to say shows that employer response to their women personnel and staff victimises the victim.

In early October, the Mumbai High Court ruled that it is the duty of every company to ensure that proper safeguards are provided to protect women from sexual and other harassment at work. “It is about time that every organization makes a list of dos and don’ts for male employees vis-à-vis their conduct towards women colleagues,” said a bench, headed by Justice V M Kanade (Times of India 2016). The complainant had alleged that her superior had not only made sexual advances towards her but even threatened to scuttle her career growth, if she refused. The bench, however, held that the findings of the internal complaints committee (ICC) and disciplinary committee showed that they had examined all allegations and held the officer guilty of misconduct.

The bench said sexual misconduct cannot be viewed casually and must be dealt with firmly and there should be an inbuilt internal mechanism so that instances of harassment can be conveyed confidentially to a senior woman officer. “Internal committees should be constituted to ensure that such instances are nipped at the inception itself.” It also pointed out that while Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in 2013, most firms have not set up complaints panels and must do so expeditiously (Times of India 2016).

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