Sexual Harassment at Workplace

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“Some people are very sensitive to sexual harassment, and some are a little more used to it. But when you feel that prickling feeling across the back of your neck, you know that some boundary has been crossed.” ~ Jan Johnson Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. INTRODUCTION

In 1997, the Supreme Court of India, for the first time, recognized sexual harassment at the work place as a violation of human rights. The landmark Vishaka judgement outlined a set of guidelines for the prevention and redress of complaints by women of sexual harassment at the workplace. The guidelines place the responsibility on the employers to provide a safe work environment to their women employees which include both preventive and remedial measures to make the work environment safe for women employees. The Supreme Court’s definition of sexual harassment includes; “such unwelcome sexually determined behavior (whether directly or by implication) as physical contact and advances; a demand or request for sexual favors; sexually colored remarks; showing pornography; any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non verbal conduct of sexual nature”. Circumstantial evidences suggests that sexual harassment in the workplace continues to be a common occurrence, typically perpetrated by a person in a position of authority and the majority of women do not take action or lodge an official complaint for fear of being dismissed, thus losing their reputation or facing hostility and social stigma in the workplace. The Vishaka judgment came into effect almost a decade ago; but the efforts to implement the guidelines have been limited. Mechanisms for redress do not always function impartially and few women are effectively able to translate the guidelines to make the workplace safer and gender equitable. Indeed, many public and private organizations have not even set up complaints committees or amended the service rules, as mandated by the guidelines set by the Vishaka judgement. BACKGROUND

The Supreme Court Guidelines on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace, issued in 1997, recognize that sexual harassment is not just a personal injury to the affected woman but violates a woman’s right to equality in the workplace. The guidelines mandate that appropriate working conditions should be provided to ensure that women do not face a hostile environment in the workplace. The guidelines shift the onus for ensuring employees’ safety to the institutions, irrespective of being government or the private sector. A number of remedial measures are indicated one of which says that the guidelines make it mandatory for employers to set up a complaints committee headed by a woman, and for at least half its members to be women. Secondly in order to ensure impartiality, the committee is to include a third-party representative from a non-governmental organization. It would appear from a few cases that few women seek redress and few women have received swift action. In other words, there had been non actions and even victimization of the complainant woman. For example, in one case, a woman (Shehnaz Sani) was dismissed from her job in 1985 on grounds of willful negligence after she complained of sexual harassment. Although the case continued until after the guidelines had been issued, and although she was reinstated after a protracted legal battle, her employers appealed to the Bombay High Court, and have been granted a stay order. In a second case (P.E. Usha) in which a complaint of sexual harassment by a colleague was lodged, the guidelines were not followed in...
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