Before talking about sexual harassment at workplaces, in order to get a better understanding of what we are going to discuss further in this article, we should understand what sexual harassment means.
Sexual harassment is a type of harassment that includes unwelcomed sexual advances and other verbal transgressions or assault of sexual nature. It can occur in any social place like at home, school, workplaces, etc, with any gender, be it women or men. Sexual harassment is not just a room talk or an invitation to share a cup of coffee; it is a behavior that creates a hostile work environment for the victim.
In order to determine whether an act amounts to sexual harassment at workplace or not, the place of occurrence, and the specific facts of the case are some relevant factors. The vital signs to decide whether or not a person is the victim of sexual harassment is when they are subjected to sexual content like sexual jokes, remarks, comments, and gestures. Unwanted physical contact like hugging, kissing, touching, and many other things like unwanted letters, telephone calls of sexual nature, asking about sexual fantasies, or personal questions about sexual life also constitute sexual harassment.
In order to curb this evil, sensitization of people, both men and women, is a basic requirement, besides supporting the victims and encouraging them to speak out against it and call out the perpetrators of such sexual offences; by doing so there is a possibility that these kinds of things will not prevail in the society.
The legislature of our Country also being aware of this menace and the immediate necessity to put an end to it, came up with a special legislation, that is, The Sexual Harassment at The Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, (POSH).
This Act lays down many preventive measures by which a workplace can be safe and healthy, and it demands a widespread awareness of those within every workplace. The Supreme Court in the landmark judgment of Vishakha and Others vs State of Rajasthan and Others, defined sexual harassment as “an unwelcomed physical, verbal or non-verbal act against women.” The Court said that such incidents of sexual harassment led to violation of the concepts of “Gender Equality” and “Right to Life and Liberty” and are in complete violation of Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Apex Court of the Country passed specific guidelines that are referred to as Vishaka Guidelines. In these guidelines, the directions for the prevention of sexual harassment are given;
* Employer must come up with the resolution and settlement mechanism against such acts;
* All the workers must take action against sexual harassment without any bias and obligation; they must initiate appropriate steps as per law;
* An employer has to assist the victim in filing the complaint with the respective authority;
* The victim and the witness should not be threatened or discriminated against while handling the complaint;
* The victim has a choice to ask for the transfer of their own or the perpetrator;
* The complaint committee should be able to give a resolution to the complaint, and it must constitute a member knowing the POSH Act. According to the POSH Act the complaint committee should be headed by a female employer, and twothirds of the members of the complaint committee should be females
* Awareness programs should be organized to make people aware of the POSH Act.
Although, the Supreme Court laid down clear and detailed guidelines in order to give the workers or employees a better environment so that they can work peacefully and enjoy there work but the reality is far different.
We can see how Government has failed in putting these guidelines at work and these are only working on the paper and not on the field. There are still many companies or workplaces that do not follow these guidelines, there are still many cases of sexual harassment, and as a matter of fact, other than women, men are increasingly becoming victims of sexual harassment too.
It is the duty of the authorities to see whether the guidelines provided by the Supreme Court on this matter or on any matter are been implemented or not, however, here it is completely visible that the authorities have completely failed to put these guidelines to work.
Effects of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment being an offence of such serious nature casts it effects not only on the victim, but on the whole society in the larger context.
The possible effects include;
1. Physical and Emotional issues: a victim of sexual harassment at workplaces often experiences physical health issues from sleep loss, nausea, and headaches. Victims often suffer psychological harm like sleep disorders, depression, and anxiety.
2. Professional and Financial issues: it has a massive impact on victims' work performance and career; fear and decreased confidence level cause victims to leave their work, ultimately affecting them financially.
3. Lawsuits and Reputation: not taking the aforementioned requisite steps by the employers to prevent sexual harassment also land them into trouble, legally. A highly publicized case of sexual harassment can damage the company's reputation as well.
4. Above and beyond the said effects, there is a very deep rooted fear in the minds of the victims of not letting people know about it lest they would be the ones blamed for it. In order to save their reputation and that of their family members many women or men are forced to leave their jobs. Besides, the victims with low will power and in absence of support by the family get involved in many other wrongful acts and that leads them toward their dark side, like drugs, suicidal thoughts, etc.
Punishments regarding Sexual Harassment.
At first the interim reliefs are provided to the victim which may include transfer from the department of occurrence, to other department or 3 months leave to the victim in addition to their statutory leave provided by the company. The victim can be given compensation based on mental trauma, pain, sufferings, the loss in career opportunities due to the incident of sexual harassment and medical expenses, if any.
Secondly, the employer has to pay the penalty for not working according to the laws and the Supreme Court directive, and if the breach is repeated by the employer, the employer will be subjected to the higher punishment prescribed by law regarding sexual harassment.
Further, there are many other sections under IPC which cover sexual harassment, for example, Section 509, Section 354 and 354-A, B, C and D and under these sections the act done has punishments as well which will prevail if one is liable under these sections.
We can have the best laws on any particular subject, like we have for sexual harassment at workplaces, however, it gets all in vain unless those laws are strictly put to practice. Therefore, it is very necessary to make strict implementation of the laws regarding sexual harassment at workplaces, including the Supreme Court guidelines in Vishakha Case and to give men and women the safe and sound environment to work in. By taking all these necessary steps the menace of sexual harassment will can definitely be done away with very soon. One has to be fearless and speak against all the wrongs to help themselves and all the other victims who due to some reasons were not able to stand for themselves.