How To Report It
The Workplace Sexual Harassment Act recognises the sensitivity attached to such matters and gives
significant importance to ensuring that the complaint and connected information are kept confidential i.e kept private. Even under the RTI Act, the information pertaining to workplace sexual harassment shall not be disclosed.
What all is included under 'information' that remains confidential from all public, press and media :
- The contents of the complaint;
- the identity and addresses of the complainant;
- any information relating to conciliation and inquiry proceedings;
- recommendations of the ICC/LCC and the action taken.
Information regarding the justice secured without disclosure of name, address, identity or any other details pertaining to the complainant or the witnesses; can be disclosed.
Breach of the obligation to maintain confidentiality is punishable under this law.
An important feature of this Act is that all workplaces that have more than 10 employees need to have a complaints committee set up.
A - Internal Complaints Committee :
- The Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act requires an employer to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at each office or branch, of an organization employing 10 or more employees, to hear and redress grievances pertaining to sexual harassment.
- Who are the members of the Internal Complaints Committee :
- Presiding Officer - Woman employed at a senior level at the workplace from amongst the employees.
- Members - Not less than 2 members from amongst employees. Preferably committed to the cause of women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge.
- External member - From an NGO or association committed to the cause of women or person familiar with
issues relating to sexual harassment.
Note : -
- Not less than half of the ICC Members shall be women.
- A minimum of 3 Members of the ICC including the Presiding Officer are to be present for conducting the inquiry.
B - Local Complaints Committee :
- At the district level, the Government is required to set up a ‘local complaints committee’ (“LCC”).
- When does one file a complaint under the LCC and not the ICC :
- if you are an employee from the unorganized sector which include households;
- if your employer's workplace has under 10 employees and the ICC has not been constituted;
- if the complaint is against your employer.
Powers of the ICC/LCC :
- The ICC and LCC shall, while inquiring into a complaint of workplace sexual harassment, have the same powers as that of a Civil Court.
- The LCC and ICC should be able to provide, if necessary, a special counselor or any other support service to the complainant.
- Further, the ICC and LCC should involve a third party i.e someone from an NGO or familiar with the issue of sexual harassment to prevent the possibility of any undue pressure or influence from senior level employees.
- The aggrieved woman must file a complaint in writing to either the ICC or LCC, as the case maybe.
- In circumstances where the aggrieved woman is unable to submit the written complaint, the members of the ICC/ LCC must provide all the necessary assistance to the woman to file her complaint in writing.
If the aggrieved woman is physically incapacitated, a complaint may be filed on her behalf by :
- her relative/ friend;
- her co-worker;
- officer of National Commission for Women (NCW) / State Women's Commission;
- any person who has knowledge of the incident, with the written consent of the aggrieved woman.
If the aggrieved woman is mentally incapacitated, a complaint may be filed on her behalf by :
- her relative/ friend;
- special educator;
- a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist;
- her guardian or authority figure under whose care the aggrieved woman is receiving treatment;
- any person who has knowledge of the incident may file the complaint jointly with any of the people listed above.
If the aggrieved woman is dead, the complaint may be filed by any person who has knowledge of the incident, with the written consent of her legal heir.
- This report must be submitted within a period of three months from the date of incident and in case of a series of incidents, within a period of three months from the date of last incident.
- The aggrieved woman should submit 6 copies of the written complaint along with supporting documents that can serve as evidence, and the names and addresses of any witnesses to the ICC or LCC.
- On receipt of the written complaint, the ICC/ LCC shall send one of the copies to the respondent i.e the accused within a period of 7 working days.
- The respondent must file his reply to the complaint along with his list of documents, and names and addresses of witnesses from his side, within 10 working days from the date on which he received the complaint copy.
- The ICC/ LCC, before initiating an inquiry and at the request of the aggrieved woman take steps to settle the matter between her and the accused through conciliation, provided that no monetary settlement shall be made as a basis of conciliation.
- The ICC/ LCC shall have the right to terminate the inquiry proceedings or give an ex-parte decision on the complaint, if the complainant or accused fails (without sufficent cause) to present themselves for 3 consecutive hearings. Such termination or ex-parte order on the inquiry can be passed only after giving a notice in writing, 15 days in advance to the concerned party.
- Both the parties i.e the complainant and accused shall not be allowed to bring in any legal practitioner to represent them in their case before the ICC/ LCC.
- During the inquiry process, there must be a minimum of 3 members present of the ICC/ LCC including the Presiding Officer/ Chairperson.
- Where the allegations against the accused amounts to a specific offence under the Indian Penal Code (for example Sec 354 - Outraging a woman's modesty) or under any other law, the ICC/ LCC shall forward the complaint to the police within a period of seven days.
- The Inquiry has to be completed within a total of 90 days from the receipt of the complaint.
- Appeal against the decision of the ICC/ LCC to the Court or Tribunal is allowed within 90 days from the date of recommendations.
Interim Reliefs :
During the pendency of an inquiry, on a written request made by the aggrieved woman, the ICC/ LCC may recommend to the employer interim measures such as:
- transfer of the aggrieved woman or the respondent to any other workplace;
- granting leave to the aggrieved woman up to a period of 3 months, such leave shall be in addition to the leave she is otherwise entitled to.
Punishment & Compensation :
- If the ICC/ LCC arrives at the conclusion that the allegation against the accused has not been proved, it shall recommend to the employer and the District Officer that no action is required to be taken in the matter.
- If the ICC/ LCC arrives at the conclusion that the allegation against the accused has been proved, it shall recommend to the employer (in case of ICC) or the District Officer (in case of LCC) the following :
- Punishment prescribed under the 'service rules' of the organization.
- If the organization does not have service rules, disciplinary action including written apology, warning, reprimand, censure, withholding of promotion, withholding of pay rise or increments, terminating the respondent from service, undergoing a counselling session, or carrying out community service may be enforced.
- To deduct from the salary of the accused, the sum that is considered to be appropriate compensation, to be paid to the aggrieved woman or her legal heirs.
- Compensation is determined by the ICC/ LCC by taking into account :
- the mental trauma, pain, suffering and emotional distress caused to the aggrieved woman;
- the loss in career opportunity due to the incident of sexual harassment;
- medical expenses incurred by the aggrieved woman for physical/ psychiatric treatment;
- the income and financial status of the accused;
- whether such payment can be done in lump sum or in installments.
- If the ICC/ LCC arrives at the conclusion that the allegations made were false or malicious or the aggrieved woman (or another individual who filed the complaint on her behalf) has knowingly submitted a false complaint, or if the aggrieved woman (or another individual who filed the complaint on her behalf) has produced forged or misleading documents; it may recommend to the employer that disciplinary action should be taken in accordance with the service rules of the organisation.
- Where the organisation does not have service rules, the statute provides that disciplinary action such as written apology, warning, reprimand, censure, withholding of promotion, withholding of pay rise or increments, termination of job may be enforced.
- Please note - The mere inability to substantiate a complaint or provide adequate proof need not attract action against the complainant under this section.
- If witnesses called upon, are found to have given false evidence or produced forged documents, they too shall be subject to the punishments mentioned above.