Sexual harassment at workplace is any sexually-oriented conduct that is ‘unsolicited’ or ‘unwelcomed’ and without the consent of the victim, causing a negative impact on the victim’s job performance and undermining the victim’s personal dignity. The number of cases regarding sexual harassment at workplace has increased drastically over the past few years.
The Constitution in article 14 states that the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law and equal protection of the laws within the territory of India and article 15 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or race. Article 15(3) goes a step forward and states that nothing in article 15 shall prevent the state from making any special provision for women and children. Article 21 states that no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except through the procedure established by law. ‘Life’ here does not mean mere existence of the person but it also means the right of the person to live his or her life with dignity.
Sexual harassment at workplace need not be an extreme case of sexual violence on the victim. Physical contact is not an essential ingredient of sexual harassment. Even the most minute instances will give rise to sexual harassment. In most of the cases a passive tolerance is misunderstood by the perpetrator as voluntary acceptance. Considering the growing competition, unemployment in India is one of the main issues. Under these circumstances, the woman is always put in a position where she is forced to ignore sexual harassment in order to not lose her job. In case the perpetrator is a superior of the victim, the victim will rather think of the job rather than raising a voice against the person. This silence because of the fear of losing the job is taken advantage of by the perpetrator and gives him more confidence to commit the crime. Another situation in which this crime happens is when the victim is a new member of the institution. After a lot of hard-work when a woman reaches a position where she is independent and at that time she goes through such sexual harassment at workplace, the woman does not understand how to react. Being new to the work environment she also does not know who to approach or what to do. This is one of the main issues pertaining to sexual harassment of women at workplaces that most of the women do not know their rights when they undergo sexual harassment at workplace. Unfortunately, the work-culture today has portrayed sexual harassment as an ‘acceptable’ act. This has caused many women to believe that sexual harassment at workplace is a part of the life of the women at the workplace. Considering the number of rising cases of sexual harassment at workplace, it is very important to know the solutions to this problem.
The first and most important step is to create awareness among women regarding their rights. It is the right of the woman to work in a safe environment. In case the employee is new, the company must Inform the employee of the redressal mechanisms that they have. In case the woman faces any sexual harassment, she must first report it to the HR of the company. It is the duty of the company to seriously hear the complaint and take appropriate actions. If the company does not look into the complaint of the victim, the victim has a right to file a case in the court of law. The law prohibits the employer to fire the employee in case the employee files a complaint against the employer. In the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme court held that women have a fundamental right of freedom against sexual harassment at workplace. It also puts forth various important guidelines for employees to follow in order to avoid sexual harassment at workplace. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 has also been passed in order to help the victims of sexual harassment at workplace to get appropriate remedies for the crime committed against them.
In conclusion it can be stated that there are a number of legal redressal mechanisms for women of sexual harassment at workplace. The women have to be made aware about their rights against any sexual harassment. The companies must also provide for appropriate remedies when an employee complains about sexual harassment. There must be harsh penalties against people who commit sexual harassment at workplace by taking advantage of vulnerable women. The courts must provide an appropriate remedy which will give a sense of confidence among the women to fight against this crime. It is the duty of every individual in the workplace to be vigilant and strive towards a safe working environment for women and prevent any form of sexual harassment at workplace.
This article is authored by Jotham Cherian, student of BBA LL.B (Hons.) at Christ University, Bangalore