Sexual harassment

An overview of the Sexual Harassment Bill passed by Parliament

Recently, the Parliament passed a law that addresses the issue of sexual harassment in the work place.  The Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 7, 2010, drew on the 1997 judgment of the Supreme Court (known as the Vishaka judgment) to codify measures that employers need to take to address sexual harassment at the work place. (See PRS analysis of the Bill here). The Bill was first passed in the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2011.  It incorporated many of the amendments recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development that examined the Bill.  The Rajya Sabha passed it on February 27, 2013 without any new amendments (see Bill as passed by Parliament). We compare the key provisions of the Bill, the Standing Committee recommendations and the Bill that was passed by Parliament (for a detailed comparison, see here).

Bill as introduced Standing Committee recommendations Bill as passed by Parliament

Clause 2: Status of domestic workers

Excludes domestic workers from the protection of the Bill. The definition should include (i)  domestic workers; and (ii) situations involving ‘victimization’; Includes domestic worker. Does not include victimisation.

Clause 4: Constitution of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)

The committee shall include 4 members: a senior woman employee, two or more employees and one member from an NGO committed to the cause of women. The strength of ICC should be increased from 4 to at least 5 (or an odd number) to facilitate decisions in cases where the bench is divided. Disqualifies a member if (a) he has been convicted of an offence or an inquiry is pending against him or (b) he is found guilty in disciplinary proceedings or a disciplinary proceeding is pending against him.
Members may not engage in any paid employment outside the office. Barring paid employment outside the office goes against NGO members who may be employed elsewhere. This clause must be edited. Deletes the provision that disallows NGO members to engage in paid employment outside.  NGO members to be paid fees or allowances.

Clause 6: Constitution and jurisdiction of Local Complaints Committee (LCC)

An LCC is required to be constituted in every district and additional LLCs at block level.  At the block level the additional LCC will address complaints where the complainant does not have recourse to an ICC or where the complaint is against the employer. The functions of the district level and the block level LCCs are not delineated clearly. It is also unclear whether the block level LCCs are temporary committees constituted for dealing with specific cases. Instead of creating additional LCCs at the block level, the District level LCC may be allowed to handle cases. A local member from the block may be co-opted as a member to aid the LCC in its task. Accepted.

Clause 10: Conciliation

The ICC/ LCC shall provide for conciliation if requested by the complainant.  Otherwise, it shall initiate an inquiry. Distinction should be made between minor and major offences. Conciliation should be allowed only for minor offences. Adds a proviso that monetary settlement shall not be the basis on which conciliation is made.

Clause 11: Inquiry into Complaint

ICC/LCC shall proceed to make inquiry into a complaint in such manner as may be prescribed. No suggestion. Inquiries will be conducted in accordance with service rules or in such manner as may be prescribed.For domestic workers, the LCC shall forward the complaint to the police within seven days if a prima facie case exists.  The case shall be registered under section 509 of Indian Penal Code (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).
Sources: The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010; the Standing Committee on HRD Report on the Bill; the Sexual Harassment at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012; PRS.

 

Verma Committee on the Sexual Harassment Bill

The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha yesterday.  Prior to this, no legislation specifically addressed the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace.  In 1997, the Supreme Court issued directions in Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan to deal with the issue.  The Supreme Court had also recommended that steps be taken to enact a law on the subject.  The Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2010 and was passed by the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2012.  In order to protect women from harassment, the Bill establishes a mechanism for redressal of complaints related to harassment. Recently, the Verma Committee in its Report on Amendments to Criminal Laws had made recommendations on the Sexual Harassment Bill.  In this blog we discuss some of the key issues raised by the Verma Committee with regard to the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. Internal Committee:  The Bill requires the establishment of a committee within organisations to inquire into complaints of sexual harassment.  The Committee shall comprise four members: three would be employees of the organisation; and the fourth, a member of an NGO committed to the cause of women.  The Verma Committee was of the opinion that in-house dealing of the complaints would dissuade women from filing complaints.  It recommended that a separate Employment Tribunal outside the organisation be established to receive and address complaints of sexual harassment. Requirement for conciliation:  Once a complaint is made, the Bill requires the complainant to attempt conciliation and settle the matter.  Only in the event a settlement cannot be reached, the internal committee of the organisation would inquire into the matter.  The Verma Committee was of the opinion that this is in violation of the Supreme Court’s judgment.  It noted that in sexual harassment cases, an attempt to conciliate compromises the dignity of the woman. Action during pendency of the case:  As per the Bill, a woman may approach the internal committee to seek a transfer for herself or the respondent or a leave to the complainant.  The Verma Committee had recommended that till the disposal of the case, the complainant and the respondent should not be compelled to work together. False complaints: The Bill allows the employer to penalise false or malicious complaints as per their service rules.  The Committee was of the opinion that this provision was open to abuse. A PRS analysis of the Bill may be accessed here.