ATFL: Creating a Safe Workplace

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was passed in 2013, following incidents and multiple surveys about sexual harassment at workplace. In compliance with this Act, Agro Tech Foods Ltd and Sundrop Foods India Ltd have adopted a gender-neutral policy. Though the Act itself does not cover men, our policy covers Sexual Harassment of men and women.

You all have received our Anti-Sexual Harassment policy at the time of your joining. 

This course will help you understand the guidelines set out by the Act in simple terms. This course is mandatory for all employees and everyone must pass the assessments involved with a 100%. 

WHAT CONSTITUTES SEXUAL HARASSMENT?

What constitutes Sexual Harassment as per the Act?

As per the Act, the following are considered to be sexual harassment at workplace: 

  • Unwelcome physical contact and advances
  • Showing pornography, making sexually colored remarks
  • Any kind of implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment 
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature

Also, any of the following situations, if they occur or are connected with any act of Sexual Harassment may amount to sexual harassment:

a) Threat of detrimental treatment in your present or future employment status

b) Interference with your work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment; or

c) Humiliating treatment likely to affect your health or safety.

Examples of Sexual Harassment at Workplace

Which acts are not protected under the Act?


Only conduct of sexual nature is covered under our policy. 

No protection under the Act is given in situations of threats of violence, offensive language or slang which is not of sexual nature. 

Radha's manager speaks to her in a very abusive language and repeatedly calls her names like "idiot" and "stupid". She is very depressed. Can she complain about her manager under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act?

  • Yes. All types of harassment is covered under this Act.
  • No. Only harassment of a sexual nature can be complained.

Sunita's manager has been asking her to stay till late at the workplace and keeps complimenting her on her looks and dresses. This is making her very uncomfortable. Would this classify as sexual harassment?

  • Yes.
  • No.

WHAT CONSTITUTES A WORKPLACE?

What constitutes a workplace?

A variety of places where people work are classified as workplaces, as per this Act: 

Premises of all government and private entities which operate on a commercial basis.

Hospitals and nursing homes.

Work in education, entertainment, vocational services, sports facilities.

With respect to household workers, even a house is considered to be workplace. 

In addition, any place visited by the employee during employment including transportation provided by the employer constitutes as workplace. 

Also, all places where voluntary work is done are also covered under this Act. 

Amit works at a private media organisation. Will this company be covered under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act?

  • Yes. It is a private office and will be covered.
  • No.

Sangeeta works as a teacher at a private school. Is her workplace considered under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act?

  • Yes.
  • No.

Rajani works as a chef at a restaurant. Is her workplace considered under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act?

  • Yes.
  • No.

Domestic maids are not covered under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act since homes are not considered workplaces. True or False?

  • True.
  • False.

Mina and Rajesh work in the same company, and they car-pool to office everyday. An incident in this scenario will be considered under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act. True or False?

  • True. They are both travelling for work.
  • False. Only transport provided by the company is considered as workplace and other modes will not be considered.

WHO QUALIFIES AS AN EMPLOYEE?

Who qualifies as an employee?

Rina is a volunteer working for child welfare. Will Rina be considered as an employee under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act?

  • Yes. Volunteers are a part of the definition of employees.
  • No. Only paid workers are considered employees under this Act.

An intern working with XYZ company has filed a complaint under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act. Can this complaint be considered?

  • Yes. Interns and temporary workers are also considered as employees.
  • No. Only permanent employees are considered employees under this Act.

Tanya works for an IT company as a freelancer and travels to work in the company cab. The cab driver passes comments at her and makes her uncomfortable. Can she register a complaint under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act?

  • Yes.
  • No.

Bindu works for ABC company and as part of her job, while visiting a client's office, she faced sexual harassment by one of the client's employees. Can she file a complaint under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act?

  • Yes. She was visiting the client as part of her work and therefore, it is part of her workplace.
  • No. Only the employer's office will be considered as a workplace.

ABC company hires 2 part-time housekeeping staff/ cleaners for their office. Would they be considered as employees under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act?

  • Yes.
  • No.

HOW DOES THIS IMPACT ME?

Will this Act impact me?

Serious incidents of sexual harassment are a rarity in a mature and performance driven company like ours. However, this Act will change one thing for us - being aware and being conscious of our behaviour at all times. 

This awareness will broadly impact three aspects: 

We have created a safe workplace for everyone associated with us. 

Having said that, we have seen that workplaces extend to places outside our offices and factories. Having the knowledge of our rights and what we can do in case of a problem, is equally important. 

Let us look at the remedies available under this Act now.

REMEDIES

Broad Outline of remedies available

There are two main options available in case an incident occurs:

1. You may approach the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) constituted by the employer/ Local Complaints Committee (LCC) if the person accused is under the control of the employer  

                            OR 

2. In case of the person accused is an outsider, the employer will assist the victim in filing a direct FIR against the perpetrator

The second option will follow the legal route through the police and courts. 

The first option on the other hand can be handled internally by the employer. 

Let us look at the proceedings of the ICC in more detail. 

Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)

Every employer who has more than 10 people working in an office or premise, must constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), under the Act. 

Any instance of Sexual Harassment must be treated as a misconduct and have severe punishment attached to it, as per the Act. The punishment will be decided by the ICC, after an in-depth inquiry into the incident. 

The structure of the ICC is as follows:

The ICC is the first point of contact in case of any issue. Once a complaint is lodged, a complete investigation takes place and suitable action will be taken as per the Act. 

In case an employer has less than 10 employees, and has not formed an ICC, the case can be referred to the LCC or the Local Complaints Committee. This is the committee set up by the District Officer in every District. 

Which complaint can be taken to the ICC?

Before taking a complaint to the ICC, three conditions have to be verified. 

Only if these 3 conditions are met, the complaint can be considered by the ICC. 

Process of filing a complaint with the ICC

If the complaint is considered to be covered under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, the following process is followed : 

A complaint can be registered either Directly by the victim or Indirectly. 

Directly

You can directly approach the ICC provided: 

a)  Complaint be filed within 90 days of the incident b) Complaint filed in 6 copies+ supporting documents, names and addresses of the witnesses. 

None of the parties can be represented by a lawyer during the proceedings 

Indirectly

There are 3 situations in which indirect complaint can be filed - In case of physical incapacity, in case of mental incapacity or in case of death. 

A friend, relative or legal representative can file the complaint with the permission of the victim or a legal heir. 

ABC company is a small enterprise employing 5 people. As per the Act, is it compulsory for them to create an ICC?

  • Yes.
  • No.

XYZ company hires 15 employees - all of them male. As per the Act, they do not need to create an ICC. True or False?

  • True. Only if there are women employees, an ICC is needed.
  • False. An ICC is needed whenever there are more than 10 employees in an organisation.

Kaushalya works in a multinational company as a part-time employee. While travelling to work in a local bus, she faced sexual harassment by another company employee. Can she file this complaint under the Act with the ICC?

  • Yes.
  • No.

A complaint can be filed with the ICC only by the victim. No one else can file the complaint on the behalf of the victim. True or False.

  • True.
  • False.

For conducting the Inquiry, a minimum of 3 members of the Complaints Committee including the Presiding Officer/ Chairperson should be present. True or False?

  • True.
  • False.

The ICC of ABC company is investigating a case. The person accused has not come to 3 consecutive hearings. Should the ICC proceed with the inquiry or keep waiting for the person to come?

  • The ICC is allowed to proceed with their inquiry and pass a judgement, without waiting any more.
  • As per the Act, the ICC must wait for both persons to appear even if it takes longer.

MEMBERS OF OUR ICC

Structure of our ICC

In keeping with the Act, we have constituted ICCs at all our locations where there are 10 or more employees. 

The chairperson of the committee is common - Ms. Kalpalatha Jambunathan - and she can be reached in confidence for any complaints. 

The detailed composition of our ICCs at each location is given.  

ICC Members: Corporate Office, Gurgaon and North

ICC Members: Registered office, Hyderabad and South

ICC Members: West Region

ICC Members: East Region

ICC Members: Jaghadia Factory

ICC Members: Sundrop Foods India Ltd.

MEASURES TAKEN BY THE ICC

Interim Measures

Interim measures are taken by the ICC when the investigation is in progress. This is required to provide temporary relief to the victim. 

In case the inquiry takes time to be solved, the complainant can be granted interim relief by the ICC in the form of:

a) Transfer to another location as the case may 

b) Leave for a period of 3 months (without any deduction in salary) in addition to  statutory or contractual leave 

c) The accused person may be restrained from reporting on the complainant’s work performance or writing confidential reports about him/her.

Conciliation

Not all investigations by the ICC may result in a penalty. Depending on the seriousness of the incident, the ICC, after hearing the complaint, may advise conciliation which results in a settlement agreement between the parties.

  • The settlement agreement may specify that:

               # The perpetrator apologizes for his/her prior conduct.

              # That the person who has filed the complaint withdraws all legal proceedings with regard to this case                   of harassment

             # Any conditions laid down by the ICC should be agreed by the parties

             # The settlement has been made without any monetary transaction

  • It may also specify the future conduct to be observed between both the parties.

Inquiry to be completed within a period of 90 days and the employer has to act on the ICC’s recommendation within 60 days of receipt.

Penalties

In case any employee is found to have committed an act of sexual harassment, the following penalties will be applicable:

  • The act will be construed as serious misconduct and strict disciplinary action including termination of employment can be initiated against the employee
  • The Anti-Harassment policy of the company will be referred to. Penalties mentioned as per the policy will be executed. 
  • The Internal Complaints Committee will investigate the case and in cases where it is proved, they will recommend a payment of compensation which the concerned employee is bound to pay
  •  In extreme cases, if the victim prefers a police complaint on the incident, the ICC will support lodging of such complaint.

Consequences of a False Complaint

A false complaint is one where: 

  • The allegation against the accused is malicious or false 
  • The complaint has been made knowing that the complaint is false 
  • Either of the parties or any other person making the complaint has produced any forged or misleading documents

In such cases, the ICC will recommend the employer to take action against the person making the false complaint in accordance with the provisions of the service. 

The consequences of a false complaint are as severe as the penalties against the actual act of sexual harassment, and may include: 

  • Termination of employment
  • Deduction in salary
  • Warning
  • Demotion, etc. 
A mere inability to substantiate a complaint or provide adequate proof will not be considered as a malicious or false complaint.

The ICC of XYZ company is investigating a case. In one of the hearings, the victim complains that the person accused is threatening that the case be withdrawn. Is there any thing the ICC can do while the investigation is still going on?

  • Yes. The ICC can provide interim relief measures like asking the victim to go to a different location, etc. as the case may be.
  • No. The ICC has to wait till the investigation completes.
  • Yes. The ICC can punish the person accused without going through the full investigation.

Once a complaint is filed with the ICC, the ICC has to definitely issue a penalty to either of the two parties involved. There is no option of a conciliation or settlement, as per the Act. True or False?

  • True.
  • False.

Once the ICC completes the inquiry on a complaint, the employer should act on the recommendations of the ICC within how many days?

  • 90 days
  • 60 days
  • 45 days
  • No time limit

SUMMARY

Finally...

  • All of you are covered under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment policy
  • You need to understand what constitutes sexual harassment, and what is the meaning of workplace under the Act
  • We all need to be aware of our behavior and language so that it is not misunderstood or is hurtful to anyone else