UNDERSTANDING SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF WOMEN AT WORKPLACE
OBJECTIVE: understanding sexual harassment of women at workplace – Article 14, 15, and Article 21 of our Indian Constitution talk about fundamental rights to equality and the right to live with dignity, respectively. Due to substantial increase in sexual harassment cases with women at workplaces in India and in order to provide a safe and secure working environment free from sexual harassment for all women the SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF WOMEN AT WORKPLACE (PREVENTION, PROHIBITION, AND REDRESSAL) ACT, 2013 (“Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act” or “POSH Act”) was passed. The POSH Act was made effective from December 09, 2013, by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, India.
Undoubtedly, a remarkable step towards ensuring safety for women at workplaces.
POSH Act is extended to the whole of India. The Act mandates the constitution of an Internal Complaints Committee at every workplace, establishment, or organization having ten or more employees (full time, part-time, interns).
As per the POSH Act, any organization having more than 10 employees is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (“ICC”) headed by a “female presiding officer,” along with the formulation of an internal policy on POSH for the prevention and redressal of sexual harassment at workplaces.
CONSTITUTION OF INTERNAL COMPLAINTS COMMITTEE-SECTION 4
Every organization on which the Act is applicable shall by order in writing constitute a Committee referred to as the “Internal Complaints Committee.”
COMPOSITION OF COMMITTEE-SECTION 4(2)
A woman employed at the workplace at a senior level shall be the Presiding Officer of the Committee, and in case the senior level woman employee is not available, other women from the office shall be nominated in accordance with the POSH Act.
Minimum 2 Members from amongst employees who are committed to the cause of women or who have had rich experience in social work and/or have legal knowledge. One member from any NGO or other associations committed to the cause of women or anyone who is familiar with different issues relating to sexual harassment. It is to be noted that at least half of the members of the Committee shall be women. Further, three years will be the maximum tenure for members of the Committee as well as the Presiding Officer. Moreover, the members of the NGO appointed by the entity shall be paid fees or allowances for attending/holding the proceedings of the Committee, by the employer in accordance with the POSH Act. Provision related to the constitution of Local Complaints Committee (“LCC”) is contained in Section 5 to 8
COMPLAINT AND REDRESSAL- SECTION 9 TO SECTION 18
Provisions relating to the complaint to be made and redressal of the same has been provided under Section 9 to Section 18.
It provides that any aggrieved woman can file a complaint in writing of Sexual Harassment at the workplace to Committee within a period of 3 months from the date of such incident. Thereafter the Committee shall initiate the inquiry in accordance with the Act and shall conclude the same within a period of 90 days; the conciliation process can also be conducted between the parties. However, this is only on the request of the aggrieved woman in this behalf.
It has been provided under the POSH Act that for the purpose of inquiry the Committee have the same power as are vested to the civil court under CPC Act while trying a case, i.e., summing and enforcing the attendance of a person, requiring the discovery and production of evidence and any other matter which may be prescribed.
The Committee is required to submit its report within a period of 10 days after its completion to the employee, and such a report also be made available to the concerned parties. Further, ICC shall also recommend to the employer about the course of action to be taken if the allegation made in compliant filed proved to be true. Any person can appeal against the order/recommendation of the Committee in case he is aggrieved before the court or tribunal as per the provisions as prescribed under the Act.
REPORTING UNDER COMPANIES ACT, 2013
W.e.f. July 31, 2018, it is mandatory all the companies except Small Company and OPC as defined under the Companies Act, 2013 to mention in its Board Report that it has constituted the Internal Complaint Committee, the details about cases registered, disposed of, i.e., action taken against and other details.
It is also mandatory for the Committee to submit an Annual Report to the employer or the District Office mentioning points like number of complaints received, disposed of, case pending for more than 90 days as provided under the Act, nature of course of action taken by the employer,
IMPLICATIONS OF NON-COMPLIANCE
Non-compliance with POSH Act in terms of failure to constitute a committee as required under the Act may results in imposing of penalty of Rs 50,000, apart from attracting penalties for non-disclosure in the Director’s Report and in case of subsequent offenses the penalty shall be twice the punishment or even cancellation/non-renewal/withdrawal of registration/license required for carrying on business or such activities.