#MeToo: How To Address Sexual Harassment At Your Workplace

If you’re a woman working in an organization, have you or anyone around you been at the receiving end of an inappropriate joke, gesture, suggestion, favour by a colleague? Or have you been offered a promotion, improvement in employment status or monetary benefits in exchange for sexual favours? Or even been threatened for your employment for denying any sexual advances? If your answer to any of the questions is yes, then let’s face it, ladies, such instances of sexual harassment at workplace are rampant, and now is the time to raise your voice against it.

It is quintessential to report these occurring and through this article, we’ll help you run through the simplest ways to report such instances of sexual harassment at your workplace.

What is sexual harassment at workplace?

Sexual Harassment can be said to be any unwelcome act or behaviour which could be direct or implied. It may include physical contact or advances; a demand or request for sexual favours; making sexually coloured remarks; showing pornography; or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

It is important to note that an incident of sexual harassment can happen to any woman, irrespective of the size or nature of the work, or her rank in the hierarchy of the organization. It may be done by a male or a female, who may be putting you in a position of fear or intimidation.

What is the Indian Law to check sexual harassment at workplaces?

To curb the incidents of sexual harassment at workplace, the government in 2013 had enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 commonly known as the POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) Act.

Reporting procedure made easy

POSH provides a platform for women facing sexual harassment at workplace for seeking redressal in a swift and confidential manner. It is mandatory for every organization to comply with the POSH guidelines.

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How to report under POSH 

Option 1: Complain within your organization

At the first instance, you can approach your organization’s Internal Complaint Committee (ICC). It is compulsory for every organization employing more than ten people to have in place an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). At first, the ICC would try to resolve the matter informally through conciliation. If it fails, a formal redressal committee would be set up.

a.  How to go about it

To make a complaint you can approach any member of the committee of your organization. You are entitled to file a complaint even if you are a freelancer, consultant or even a client to the workplace.

b.  Where can you face sexual harassment

It is not necessary that the incident happens at your workplace.  An incident may occur during any of your company events, work-related travels, customer’s/ client’s premises or any work-related electronic communication.

c. Is there a time limit to file a complaint

You may file a complaint within 3 months of the last incident. If the period of complaint has lapsed, you could extend it by another three months, provided there are reasonable grounds for the delay.

d. How are women protected under the ICC

An important feature of the ICC is that you can keep your identity anonymous while filing the complaint and even in the course of proceedings. Also, during the proceedings, no questions can be asked directly to the victim or her witness. The complaint that you file with the ICCs or LCCs is monitored by the National Commission for Women to ensure their proper redressal.

e. What to expect from your complaint to ICC 

If the ICC is satisfied that there indeed has been a case of sexual harassment, it would forward your complaint to the police within 7 days under the relevant provisions of the IPC. Also, during the pendency of your proceedings, you can request to be transferred to another workplace or be given a leave, in case you feel unsafe.

f. What if your company does not have an ICC-

  • Approach your District’s Local Complaints Committee (LCC)

An LCC is a local body instituted in every district to file complaints of sexual harassment at workplace where the organization does not have an ICC or less than 10 workers or the complaint is against the employer himself.

  • Approach the District Magistrate:

You also have the option of going to the District Magistrate to report non- compliance by your company. The Act prescribes a penalty of up to Rs. 50,000 if an employer has failed to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee.

g. Director’s liability under POSH

It is now mandatory for every director of a Company to disclose their Compliance with POSH Laws in the Director’s Report, through the Annual Board Report filed with the Registrar of Companies.

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Option 2: File an online complaint

a. SHe-box: Online complaint portal by government

If you feel dissatisfied or uncomfortable with your company’s ICC, or if your workplace does not have one, the SHe-Box is the solution for you. The SHe-Box is an online portal created by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013.

Besides this, you can file complaints of sexual harassment directly to the Ministry, irrespective of the fact whether you’re a government or private sector employee. You can place your complaint directly at the SHe-box online portal, and check the update on your complaint status as well.

b. National Commission for Women

The National Commission for Women provides a broad platform for filing a complaint and acts as an alternative to the other recourses. It is yet again, one of the simplest ways to file an online complaint. You can simply log on to their website and click on “Register Online Complaint”, or you could directly go to their complaint page. In case of any confusion while filling in the details one can simply access the “Guidelines” provided alongside the complaint form.

Option 3: Complaining to a Police Officer

If the online ways are not the answer for you, you can always approach a police officer at your nearest police station.

a. Filing an FIR

You can register a First Information Report (FIR) before a police officer under Section- 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

b. Know your rights at the police station!

No police officer can refuse to take your complaint stating jurisdictional issues, i.e. a different police station is responsible for addressing the complaint, where the incident took place.

You are entitled to file a ZERO FIR, in which the FIR filed would be as Zero number and has to be transferred to the appropriate police station. Therefore, NO complaint about sexual harassment can go unaddressed.

c. Whom to approach?

In the police stations, you could look out for a Rapid Response Desk for Women which has a woman police officer. You can also directly approach a female police officer. If there is no woman officer, then you can approach a woman constable at that police station.

d. What to keep in mind while filing an FIR

While filing an FIR, you may be accompanied by a lawyer, or even a friend or family member. A complaint can also be made by call or via e-mail.

While making the complaint you must ensure that the information given to the police officer should be

  • detailed

  • accurate

  • without delay

  • must be verified to remove any discrepancies

e. What if the police officer refuses to take my complaint

Sexual harassment is a cognizable offence and thus, no police officer can refuse to lodge your complaint. However, if a police officer still does that, you can complain to an officer of a higher rank or to your District Judicial Magistrate under Section- 156(3) read with Section- 190 of the CrPC, with the help of a lawyer.

Thus, with the 2013 Act, the law on sexual harassment at workplace has been made more comprehensive and easy to comprehend at the same time. You can without any fear of repercussions and with full confidentiality, report instances of sexual harassment. The law is repugnant if there is no utilization or implementation of it. The biggest deter to any sexual harassment at workplace is the fear of it being reported, which you can easily triumph by speaking up!

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