New Delhi: Women can now look forward to a secure workplace with the government on Thursday proposing to bring in the long-pending sexual harassment Bill under which an employer would be liable to pay a fine of Rs50,000 on failing to comply with its provisions.
A meeting of the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, approved the introduction of the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010, in the coming winter session of Parliament.
The proposed Bill, if enacted, will ensure that women are protected against sexual harassment at all work places be it public, private or unorganised and ensure a safe environment for women at workplaces.
Domestic maids, however, will not be covered under the Bill. “This will contribute to realisation of their right to gender equality, life and liberty and equality in working conditions everywhere. The sense of security at the workplace will improve women’s participation in work, resulting in their economic empowerment and inclusive growth,” an official spokesperson said.
The Bill proposes a definition of sexual harassment, which is as laid down by the Supreme Court in Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan (1997).
The definition includes any physical contact and advances or demand or request for sexual favour, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography and any other unwelcome physical, verbal, non-verbal contact of sexual nature.
Additionally it recognises the promise or threat to a woman’s employment prospects or creation of hostile work environment as “sexual harassment” at workplace and expressly seeks to prohibit such acts.
The Bill provides protection not only to women who are employed but also to any woman who enters the workplace as a client, customer, apprentice, and daily wage worker or in ad-hoc capacity.
Students, research scholars in colleges or university and patients in hospitals have also been covered.
The Bill provides for an effective complaints and redressal mechanism. Under the proposed Bill, every employer is required to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee.
Since a large number of the establishments (41.2 million out of 41.83 million) in the country have less than 10 workers for whom it may not be feasible to set up an Internal Complaints Committee, the Bill provides for setting up of Local Complaints Committee to be constituted by the designated District Officer at the district or sub-district levels.
This twin mechanism would ensure that women in any workplace, irrespective of its size or nature, have access to a redressal mechanism. The local Committees will enquire into the complaints of sexual harassment and recommend action to the employer or district officer.
The quantum of punishment will be decided by the committees as per the service rules. Employers who fail to comply with the provisions of the proposed Bill will be punishable with a fine which may extend to Rs50,000.
Since there is a possibility that during the pendency of the enquiry the woman may be subject to threat and aggression, she has been given the option to seek interim relief in the form of transfer either of her own or the respondent or seek leave from work.
The Complaint Committees are required to complete the enquiry within 90 days and a period of 60 days has been given to the employer or District Officer for implementation of the recommendations of the Committee.
The Bill provides for safeguards in case of false or malicious complaint of sexual harassment. However, mere inability to substantiate the complaint or provide adequate proof would not make the complainant liable for punishment.
Sources said that the a draft on the Bill submitted by the National Commission for Women was also discussed while formulating the Bill.
The State and Central Governments will oversee implementation as the proposed Bill casts a duty on the employers to include a report on the number of cases filed and disposed of in their Annual Report.
Organisations, which do not prepare Annual Reports, would forward this information to the District Officer.
Through this implementation mechanism, every employer has the primary duty to implement the provisions of law within his/her establishment while the State and Central Governments have been made responsible for overseeing and ensuring overall implementation of the law.
The Governments will also be responsible for maintaining data on the implementation of the Law. In this manner, the proposed Bill will create an elaborate system of reporting and checks and balances, which will result in effective implementation of the Law.