workplace harassment

My colleague touched my breasts

Mahira is very stressed. Her colleague has tried to touch her breasts, sometimes brushing past her purposely. She really enjoys her work but can’t focus on anything right now. What can Mahira do in this situation?

Internal Complaints Committee

We asked Mahira to tell us more about her office. Does her office have an Internal Complaints Committee also known as the ICC. 

By law, every organisation that has 10 or more employees is supposed to have an Internal Complaints Committee The ICC is made up of staff including at least half women members, and must be headed by a senior woman employee. The ICC must also have an external member. 

Mahira checked with her HR and found out she her office has an ICC. If Mahira wants her office to help her with situation, she can approach the ICC and tell them about her problem. 

In organisations that have less than 10 employees, harassment complaints can be made to a district-level Local Complaints Committee or to the woman’s wing at the local police station. 

Mahira’s next step

Upon the recommendation of the ICC, Mahira was given an option to take a paid leave for upto three months during the enquiry or work from a different branch.  She chose the former option. 

Sometimes the option of leave/transfer is also given to the respondent (accused). This is done to prevent further harm or an uncomfortable work environment between the complainant and the accused. 

Mahira was assured that her enquiry will be completed within 90 days. Upon completion of enquiry, if the accused is found guilty, the committee will decide either on a punitive action (including removal from work, or launch of a formal police complaint) or a monetary compensation (to be paid by the harasser to the harassed), which will need to be done within 10 days of the conclusion of the enquiry. 

These details are communicated to both – complainant and the accused -- any other involved parties . 

The employer must act on these recommendations within 60 days of receiving recommendations about punitive action or penalty from the ICC.

What comes under sexual harassment

Mahira’s case was straightforward. Her colleague touched her inappropriately and it is  counted as sexual harassment. Sometimes things can be a little confusing. 

The Act defines sexual harassment as:

  • to include physical contact and advances, 
  • a demand or request for sexual favours, 
  • making sexually coloured remarks, 
  • showing pornography, 
  • any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature. 

It also includes:

  • implying or explicitly promising preferential or detrimental treatment to the aggrieved woman’s job, 
  • threatening about her present or future employment status,
  • humiliating to affect her health or safety, 
  • or interfering with her work to create an intimidating, offensive or hostile work-environment for her.

What is a workplace?

What if Mahira faced the same situation with her colleague at an office party? In the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, workplace includes every place from a formal office to a school, a hospital, a house (that is the workplace for domestic workers), off-site client location and office trips and parties. It also mandates that each employer has to provide transportation for any off-sites or parties. 

Important points to keep in mind

  1. Mahira waited for a month before she could not take the stress anymore. But it’s best to not wait for too long. If you feel you’ve been sexually harassed, approach the ICC with a written complaint within three months of such incident or sooner. 
  2. If you are not able to write the complaint yourself, the ICC can help you write it.
  3. The three-month rule can be relaxed by the ICC if they feel that the circumstances were such that they prevented the aggrieved woman from making the complaint within said time.
  4. Did Mahira know that she has an IC in the office? No, she only got to know about it from her HR when she asked. However, the employer is supposed to ensure a healthy workspace, conduct sensitization trainings, and also display a notice about the existence of an IICC and of the penal consequences for anyone who sexually harasses a colleague. 
  5. This act also makes room to probe if the complaint is motivated or false or made with malicious intent and empowers the ICC to take action against such a complainant. However, inability to substantiate a claim of being sexually harassed or to provide adequate proof does not attract any action against the complainant.

It is important for all working women to know about this act and feel confident to make full use of it, if required. 

Share this article with all your women colleagues and check whether your office has an ICC? Ask now!

Have any queries on workplace harassment? Please ask Love Matters (LM) experts on our discussion forum. Don’t forget to check out our Facebook page.

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