Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Supreme Court Bans Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place
In the Landmark case of Vishaka and others versus State of Rajasthan (AIR 1997 Supreme Court 3011), The Supreme Court has issued extensive guidelines to ensure prevention of sexual harassment of women at workplace. These directions were issued in a writ petition arising out of an incident of alleged brutal gang rape of a social worker in a village of Rajasthan.
This petition was filed for the enforcement of fundamental rights of working women under article 14, 19 and 21 of the constitution of India in view of the prevailing climate in which the violation of these rights is not uncommon. With the increasing awareness and emphasis on gender justice, there is an increase in the effort to guard against such social violations; and the resentment towards incidents of sexual harassment is also increasing. This petition was in public interest and was brought as a class action by certain social activist and NGOs.
It has been held by the Supreme Court that it shall be the duty of the employer to prevent the commission of sexual harassment and to provide the procedures for the resolution and prosecution of acts of sexual harassment by taking all the steps required.
Sexual harassment has been described as including such unwelcome sexually determined behavior (whether directly or by implication) as:
(a) physical contact and advances;
(b) a demand or request for sexual favors;
(c) sexually coloured remarks;
(d) showing pornography;
(e) any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
It has been held that all employers should take appropriate step to prevent sexual harassment: (a) The prohibition of sexual harassment should be notified published and circulated in appropriate ways. (b) The rules/regulation of government of public sector bodies should included rules prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for appropriate penalties. (c) As regard private employees steps should be taken to include the prohibition in this standing orders under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.
The employer has been directed to initiate criminal action by making a complaint in cases where specific offence of sexual harassment has taken place. He is also required to initiate disciplinary action. The above guidelines are in addition to rights available to women under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.