Watch: What workplace sexual harassment is, and what companies should do

The Me Too wave spread in India last month and several terms such as ICC, POSH, and external member became a part of the conversation as well.

While awareness on workplace sexual harassment is increasing, many are still confused about what constitutes sexual harassment. With our video, we attempt to clear some of the confusion around sexual harassment and give you the civil and criminal remedies available to address the issue.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment at the workplace is any form of harassment – verbal, physical, or emotional – of a sexual nature. It can play out in many ways such as a “quid pro quo” demand – that is, a person asking for sexual favours in return for things like a promotion or a foreign assignment.

At other times, denial of sexual favours can lead to a hostile work environment. The harasser can turn people at the office against you, or can ensure that you don’t get good assignments.

A demand or request for sexual favours, making unsolicited sexual remarks, showing someone pornography or sexually suggestive photographs without their consent, is all sexual harassment.

What can you do if you’re sexually harassed?

Under the Indian Penal Code, there are criminal remedies, and there are also civil remedies, under the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Criminal remedies include punishment for stalking, voyeurism, molestation, attempted rape, or rape.

For civil remedies, the Vishakha Guidelines were ordered by the Supreme Court in 1997 to provide the framework for defining sexual harassment at workplace and the guidelines to deal with it.

In 2013, the Indian government came up with the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, that implemented these guidelines. This law states that it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure the safety of women in the workplace. Further, every organisation must have a zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and this must be communicated to all employees. The organisation must also conduct trainings for all employees on workplace sexual harassment.

And lastly, every organisation that has 10 or more employees must have an ICC or Internal Complaints Committee that deals with sexual harassment at the workplace.

An ICC must be headed by a senior woman in the organisation. At least 50% of the members of the ICC must be women, and the ICC must also have an “external member,” a woman who has worked in the field of women’s rights and empowerment for a good number of years.

An ICC in any organisation must accept complaints of sexual harassment or misconduct, and begin an inquiry into the matter. It must give recommendations for the action taken against the accused if he’s found guilty.

The law also protects women from harassers who are not employees and who the women come in contact with as part of their work. This puts the onus on the employers to help the victim file a police complaint or pick up the legal fee in the case.

Lastly, if the employer fails to constitute an ICC, he will be punished with a fine which may extend to Rs 50,000.