Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace

Sexual Harassment is behavior. It is defined as an unwelcome behavior of sexual nature. Sexual harassment at workplace is a widespread problem in the world whether it be a developed nation or a developing nation or an underdeveloped nation, atrocities against women is common everywhere. It is a universal problem giving negative impact on both men and women. It is happening more with women gender in particular.
How much ever one try to protect, prohibit, prevent and give remedies such violation will always take place. It is a crime against women, who are considered to be the most vulnerable section of the society. That is why they have to suffer all these immunes starting from female feticide, human trafficking, stalking, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, to the most heinous crime Rape. It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or an employee) because of that person’s sex.
Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Sexual Harassment is unwelcome sexual behavior, which could be expected to meet a person feel offended, humiliated or intimated. It can be physical, verbal and written.
Unwelcome Behavior is the critical word. Unwelcome does not mean “involuntary.” A victim may consent or agree to certain conduct and actively participate in it even though it is offensive and objectionable. Therefore, sexual conduct is unwelcome whenever the person subjected to it considers it unwelcome. Whether the person in fact welcomed a request for a date, sex-oriented comment, or joke depends on all the circumstances.

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace

One of the difficulties is to understand this concept as it involves a range of behaviors, even the victims find it difficult to explain what they experienced. There have been efforts from both national and international level still there is no single definition which can define prohibited behavior.
The international instruments defines Sexual Harassment as “violence against women and discriminatory treatment which is a broad definition compared to the national laws. National laws focus on the illegal conduct more.
In general sense it is known as “unwelcome sexual favor and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment”
The Supreme Court of India defined Sexual Harassment as any unwelcome sexually determined behavior (whether directly or by implication) such as;
1. Physical contact and advances,
2. A demand or request for sexual favors,
3. Sexually colored remarks,
4. Showing pornography,
5. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
A key part of the definition is the use of the word unwelcome. Such unwelcome or uninvited conduct/act is totally prohibited. Sexual or romantic interaction between consenting people at work may be offensive to observers or may also lead to the violation of the workplace’s policy, but it is not sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment is one of the biggest problems our women are facing today in different sectors of life. We rarely pass through a week without a reminder of these kinds of incidents which should be termed as “social problems”.
It is a growing problem and all are trying their best to combat this problem by adopting new policies and measures. The definition of sexual harassment varies from person to person and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The definition of Sexual Harassment in simple words is “any unwanted or inappropriate sexual attention. It includes touching, looks, comments, or gestures”.
A key part of Sexual Harassment is that it is one sided and unwanted. There is a great difference between Sexual Harassment and Romance and Friendship, since those are mutual feelings of two people. Often Sexual Harassment makes the victim feel guilty, but it is important for the victim to remember that it is not her fault; the fault lies totally on the person who is a harasser. Sexual Harassment affects all women in some form or the other. Lewd remarks, touching, wolf whistles, looks are part of any women’s life, so much so that it is dismissed as normal. Working women are no exception. In fact, working women most commonly face the backlash to women taking new roles, which belong to male domains within patriarchy. Sexual Harassment at work is an extension of violence in everyday life and is discriminatory, exploitative, thriving in the atmosphere of threat, terror and reprisal.
Many times fear is involved in Sexual Harassment because it isn’t physical attraction, it’s about power. In fact, many Sexual Harassment incidents take place when one person is in a position of power over the other; or when a woman has an untraditional job such as police officer, factory worker, business executive, or any other traditionally male job.
It has also been observed that there are lots of sexual harassment incidents taking place in the workplace, but the victims fear to report the same to the higher officials or the concerned authorities. They fear to file a complaint against such offenders who does such heinous acts. The fear is due to the fear of boss, fear of guilt in the society that they might have to face, fear of being thrown out of the job or being demoted, fear that it will jeopardize their career as in it will put a blot on their resume and would render them un-hirable. Some women have lack of knowledge- they do now know what exactly qualifies a sexual harassment and fail to report the same.
Every country is facing this problem daily. No female worker is safe and the sense of security is lacking in them. There are certain developments in laws of many countries to protect women workers from Sexual Harassment.
Sexual Harassment is major problem in school, college’s universities and institutions, and its percentage is increasing day by day. Surveys on college campus show the number of respondents reporting have been sexually harassed ranging from 40-70 percent. Only two percent of campus harassment involve a professor demanding sex in return for good grade. Most cases involve male and female students.
Sexual harassment is usually associated making unwelcome or uninvited advances to another employee of opposite gender. For example a male employee sexually harassing a female employee or a female employee harassing a male employee. But in certain cases it is seen that an employee harasses another employee who is of same gender, i.e. male employee sexually harassing another male employee only or a female employee harassing another female employee. This is popularly called Same Sex Sexual harassment. Though the percentage of same sex harassment is quite less in number but it still takes place and such incidents cannot be overlooked but should be dealt in strict manner.
● The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, in Melnychenko V 84 Lumber Company concluded that same sex sexual harassment is prohibited under state law regardless of the sexual orientation of the parties.
● The Supreme Court held in Oricale v Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc that the title VII prohibits sexual harassment even when the harasser and target of harasser are of the same sex.
Sexual harassment includes many things:
●Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault:
● Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching.
●• Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions.
● Whistling at someone.
● Kissing sounds, howling, and smacking lips.
● Touching an employee’s clothing, hair, or body
● Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person.

Who is a Harasser and who is Harassed:
It is commonly thought that workplace sexual harassment is limited to interactions between male bosses and female subordinates. This is not true. In fact, sexual harassment can occur between any co-workers, including the following:
1. Subordinate harassment of a superior;
2. Men can be sexually harassed by women;
3. Same sex harassment- men can harass men; women can harass women;
4. Offenders can be supervisors, co-workers, or non-employees such as customers, vendors, and suppliers

As already told Sexual Harassment is an older and global phenomenon which crosses all the lines and the problem is very extensive and not only confined or reduced to bosses exploiting employees.
Perpetrators come from both private and government sectors, including third party perpetrators. The domains of perpetrators are companies, Schools, Hospitals, Institution, Universities and other entities where female employees are employed.
Many reported cases did not take advantage of Vishaka Guidelines to seek redress. The courts in many cases excused the employers from the liability saying the employers are not blamed for Sexual Harassment.
The inability to speak the incidents to the employers or head of the office had led to unreported cases of Sexual Harassment. Women felt guilty than angry the times they reported the instances, the experience due to the public relations to the sexual issues and their fear of getting justice.

The problem of sexual harassment of women is not a new development, it has been a part in every women’s life an older phenomenon of showing the dominance of men in the society. Sexual harassment is one of those problems which play a bad role by discouraging women in taking active part in economic and social development. It is a demanding and offensive experience one employee can suffer and it is gaining recognition whether it be at workplace or an institution or at home.
Civil Society claims 70% of women have had sexual harassment experience.
Since the early 80’s sexual harassment at workplace has remained a main issue in India. In 1980’s the Forum Against Oppression of Women took action against the sexual harassment of nurses in public and private hospitals by doctors, patients and their male relatives, other staffs, teachers by colleagues principals, students by teachers, professors and other staff. But nothing stopped the women activists and social workers who tried to bring all cases to public and who also fought sexual harassment at the workplace. One such instance is Women’s voice (an NGO) in Goa mobilized which public opinion against the Chief Minister who allegedly harassed his secretary, through rallies demonstration till the CM was forced to resign.
After this incident again in 1990 the same women’s organization filed a PIL to bring amendments to the old rape law which defined rape in narrow sense.
For the first time in the history of the Indian Courts in 1997 the Supreme Court of India recognized sexual harassment at workplace as a violation of human rights but also as a personal injury to the affected woman.
The landmark case of Vishaka and others Vs. State of Rajasthan laid down guidelines for the preventing and redressel of the complaints by women who were sexually harassed at workplace. The Guidelines entrusted the Employer with the obligation to provide a safe and woman friendly environment.
Another case the Complaint was working in a Hyderabad based company and she was sexually harassed by her Supervisor. The case was investigated by a woman who was working in the head office of the Company. The charges were proved and the inquiry report was also submitted but what happened later was the Complainant was asked to resign from her job as she was identified as a trouble maker and the accused was allowed to continue with his job. No compensation was given to the Complainant.
From all these instances what we can infer is that the women often report the cases and the result was no action was taken, committee not constituted properly, judgments made in favor of the complainant but no strict action was taken against the perpetrator. In short what we understand is the guidelines redressel was not partial but the way it functioned was not impartial and very few women could effectively implement the guidelines to make the workplace gender equitable and safer.
Some noteworthy complaints of Sexual harassment at workplace that came into the National limelight were filed by:
1. Rupan Deo Bajaj, an IAS officer in Chandigarh, against ‘Super Cop’ K.P.S. Gill.
2. An activist from the All India Democratic Women’s Association, against the Environment Minister in Dehradoon.
3. An Airhostess against her colleague Mahesh Kumar Lala, in Mumbai.

Before the Vishakha guidelines came into picture, the women had to take matter of Sexual Harassment at Workplace through lodging a complaint under Sec 354 and 509 of IPC.
Sexual Harassment was a serious issue and it still is, it was needed to be given priority and measures were decided to be taken to tackle this problem. Government, employers, employees, women organizations all were thinking how to eliminate this menace from the society.
Everybody wanted to prevent Sexual Harassment as prevention is the first step to prohibit or abolish any hazardous thing from the society. To achieve this, one needs legislation as a tool based on that the government and the organizations will be able to make strategies and policies to remove the issue.
As all know Sexual Harassment is universal problem which is kind of violence against women. International community has recognized in their international treaties and documents the free from Sexual Harassment as a human rights of women. All the legal instruments dealing with this matter have laid down protection of life and liberty and these instruments have been used as a source to prevent and address the issue.
In India till the Vishakha judgment came there was no law to govern this matter and the guidelines which came as an outcome of this case were derived from the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Even the Constitution of India had grounded provisions in the form of fundamental rights of life and liberty, the right against discrimination and the freedom to practice any trade or profession or to carry on any occupation.

Guidelines and norms laid down by honorable Supreme Court in Vishaka and others vs. State of Rajasthan and others.
It is necessary and expedient for employers in work places as well as other responsible persons or institutions to observe certain guidelines to ensure the prevention of sexual harassment of women.
Duty of the employer or other responsible persons in work places and other institutions: It shall be the duty of the employer or other responsible persons in work places or other institutions to prevent or deter the commission of acts of sexual harassment and to provide the procedures for the resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts, of sexual harassment by taking all steps required.

All employers or persons in charge of work place whether in public or private sector should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassment. Without prejudice to the generality of this obligation they should take the following steps:
a. Express prohibition of sexual harassment as defined above at the work place should be notified, published and circulated in appropriate ways.
b. The rules of government and public sector bodies relating to conduct and discipline should include rules prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for appropriate penalties in such rules against the offender.
c. As regards private employers, steps should be taken to include the aforesaid prohibitions in the standing orders under the industrial employment (standing orders) act, 1946.
d. Appropriate work conditions should be provided in respect of work, leisure, health and hygiene to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women at work places and no employee woman should have reasonable grounds to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.

Where such conduct amounts to a specific offence under the IPC or under any other law, the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with law by making complaint with the appropriate authority.
In particular, it should ensure that victims or witnesses are not victimized or discriminated against while dealing with complaints of sexual harassment.
Where such conduct amounts to misconduct in employment as defined by the relevant service rules, appropriate disciplinary action should be initiated by the employer in accordance with those rules.
Whether or not such conduct constitutes an offence under law or a breach of the service rules, and appropriate complaint mechanism should be created in the employer’s organization for redress of the complaint made by the victim.
Such complaint mechanism should ensure time bound treatment of complaints.

The complaint mechanism, referred to above, should be adequate to provide, where necessary, a complaints committee, a special counselor or other support service, including the maintenance of confidentiality.
The complaints committee should be headed by a woman and not less than half of its member should be women. Further, to prevent the possibility of any undue pressure or influence from senior levels, such complaints committee should involve a third party, either NGO or other body who is familiar with the issue of sexual harassment.
The complaint committee must make an annual report to the government department concerned of the complaints and action taken by them.
The employers and person in charge will also report on the compliance with the aforesaid guidelines including on the reports of the complaints committee to the government department.
Employees should be allowed to raise issues of sexual harassment at a workers’ meeting and in other appropriate forum and it should be affirmatively discussed in employer-employee meetings.
Awareness of the rights of female employees in this regard should be created in particular by prominently notifying the guidelines (and appropriate legislation when enacted on the subject) in a suitable manner.
Where sexual harassment occurs as a result of an act or omission by any third party or outsider, the employer and person in charge will take all steps necessary and reasonable to assist the affected person in terms of support and preventive action.
The central/state governments are requested to consider adopting suitable measures including legislation to ensure that the guidelines laid down by this order are also observed by the employers in private sector.
These guidelines will not prejudice any rights available under the protection of human rights act, 1993
India did not have any legislation till the Bill for the protection of women from Sexual Harassment was moved in the Parliament in the year 2005. After a 10 long years gap in 2010, the Bill was in the Lok Sabha with slight changes in the old Bill. The new Bill defined “sexual harassment” and also provided for a redressal mechanism thorugh “internal Complaints Committee” in the workplace or “Local Complaints Committee” at the district level. There was a problem regarding the action to be taken against false and malicious charges or complaints, to solve this issue the Parliamentary Standing Committee in June 2011, submitted recommendations to remove false and malicious charges. Then the newer version of the Bill retained the action against false and malicious charges by ICC or Local Committee against the Complaint under section 14.
According to section 13 of the Bill there are two stages of enquiry, one is once the charges are found and proved the report of the same must be sent to the DC (Disciplinary Committee) and it will take action as per the service rules. This is again a time consuming process, where the victim has to produce the evidences again and go through cross examination, which is a kind of mental torture to the victim. The case may be different with a private sector then regarding the second process of enquiry, these stages or traditions are acting against the value Constitution of ICC.
In relation to this, the Apex Court in case of Medha Kotwal has clearly laid down that the report of the committee id final and the disciplinary committee is vested with the power to give punishment and to conduct second enquiry.
Till the new Act of 2013, came into effect; the problem of sexual harassment was governed by the guidelines laid down by the Vishakha case in the year 1997. The main objective of the Act was to implement the guidelines and to ensure an accessa safe workplace by woman


To understand the whole jurisprudence on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace we need to step back to the landmark judgment of the honorable Supreme Court in Vishakha, in this case for the very first time in the definition of “Sexual Harassment” was laid down, it also acknowledged “Sexual Harassment at Workplace” to be a human rights violation and detailed guidelines were brought in.
Even after the Vishakha judgment came into force almost a decade ago, nothing was done to implement the guidelines there under; some women could effectively implement the guidelines to make the workplace friendly and gender equitable. Most of the public and private organizations have failed to follow the guidelines by setting up complains committees or change the service rules as required by the guidelines.
After many controversies and delays, a new development came up i.e. our Indian legislature passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, to provide protection for the working women against sexual harassment and also form a redressal mechanism complaint in this matter.

Like all other acts, this act is being highly criticized by women right activists and several NGO’s. The internal committee formed under this act has the power to decide a monetary fine which must be paid by the perpetrator, depending on their income and financial stability. This is a kind of discriminatory method, it supports and envisages inequality among different sections of the society, for example, a person earning low income would be paying a lower fine compared to a senior who earns more.
Other criticisms are that the Act does not cover the agricultural workers, armed forces (a sector which is heavily dominated by men). Enquiries in armed forces are done within the closed rooms which should be undone, and the armed forces women must be included into the scope and ambit of the Act as no interests or strategic matters are affected by protecting them against Sexual Harassment at Workplace. According to a few, this Act is gender biased and not all the gender neutral, “it is a discriminating Act” which protects only women and not men from Sexual Harassment at Workplace. The reason is that over the last years various recent studies and surveys have shown women’s involvement in acts of sexual harassment at workplaces. The research says that most of the cities in India are gender-neutral and women are dominating like men. According to the surveys, researches in practical circumstances and situations are totally different from what the legislators envisaged. Moreover, the Act lacks the mechanism to cope up with situations like men being sexually harassed.
Another disputable area under this Act is the wide scope for false allegations. Many are misusing the Act for their personal benefits, which lead to untrue allegations and unnecessary litigation. If a matter under this comes up before the complaint committee, it is not only affecting the reputation of the man falsely accused but also his family even though the Act is a great step forward for the protection of women from Sexual Harassment at Workplace.
According to the Act, if a complaint is made with malicious intent which substantiated then it shall attract to repercussions under Section 14 or if there is any false complaint backed with forged document then strict action will be taken according to the service rules of that organization. One of the flaws of this section is that there can be certain cases which cannot be proved sufficiently and then it becomes a frivolous complaint which can lead to the penalizing of women for the malicious and false complaints which again goes against the very objective of the Act.
Cancellation of the registration of the organization or entity results in punishment being doubled as revocation of license will inflict further injury to the business and also to the innocent parties who work in that establishment, so a fine should be imposed or prescribed in such cases.
In the end, if it is found that a person has filed a false complaint then the ICC will award the same punishment to the person who has filed the wrong complaint as per Rule 10 of the Rules.



● Every workplace must constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) headed by a senior-level woman employee. Details of the committee and members must be displayed at the workplace.
● The committee must have not less than two members from amongst employees who are committed to the cause of women, or have experience in social work or have a good legal knowledge. One member must be from an NGO or such Association. At least half of the committee must comprise women. In case of establishments with less than ten members and no complaints committee, the appropriate government must constitute a Local Complaints Committee in every district.
Who can file a Complaint :
● The complaint must be made in writing within 3 months of the incident. In case of series of incidents, report must be prepared within 3 months of last incident. The time limit can be extended to three more months on valid circumstances.
● At the complainants request, the committee can take steps to mediate a reconciliation before initiating an inquiry. The legal heir can make a complaint on behalf of the woman in case of physical/mental incapacity, death or otherwise.
● The complainant can ask for transfer (for herself or the respondent) 3 months leave or other relief during inquiry period.
● The inquiry should be completed within a period of 90 days from the day of complaint. Non- Compliance is punishable.

Sexual harassment of women is not only seen in India or few other selected countries but prevails all over the globe, be it a developed nation or developing nation or an underdeveloped nation. There are lots of strict laws and action taken against the offenders who indulge in such activities but yet the percentage of sexual harassment of women does not seem to decline even a bit. Everyday some or the other cases come forward where a women is being sexually harassed.
According to a survey majority of female Israel’s MPs faced sexual harassment. At least 28 out the Israeli parliament’s 32 female members have experienced sexual harassment or assault, and at least two of the cases took place in the Knesset building, a recent survey has found.
Research conducted recently by the International labor Rights Fund (ILRF) determined that women worker in export processing industries in Kenya, producing goods for the US marker, suffer from violent sexual abuse by their employees and supervisors.
The study reveals that:
1. Over 90 percent of all respondents had experienced, or observed, sexual abuse within their workplace.
2. 70 percent of the men interviewed viewed sexual harassment of women workers as normal and natural behavior.
3. 66 percent of the women interviewed believed that workplace sexual abuse is a strong contributing factor to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
4. 95 percent of women who had suffered workplace sexual harassment were afraid to report the problem as the women who reported sexual abuse were often fired and demoted.
In China, 80% of working women experienced sexual harassment at some stage of their career. In Germany, a survey indicated that 93% of working women were victims of sexual harassment as of 1998. Approximately 6 of 10 nurses in Australia have experienced sexual harassment. In Hong Kong most complaints received by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in some recent years were of sexual harassment. In the United States over 50% of employed women had been sexually harassed. In Canada 51% of women reported having experienced sexual violence at least once. In Singapore almost 50% women have been victims of sexual harassment
In India, sexual harassment violates the women’s fundamental rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Now we have Special Act for curbing Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace which has been discussed. Other legislations which try to prevent sexual harassment are Indian Penal Code, the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1987, the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 and the Factories Act, 1948. The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 should also be considered as the rights of women are also human rights and need to be protected at any cost.
Other than these remedies from the above mentioned Acts, the victims of sexual harassment can approach Civil Courts for tortious actions (mental anguish, physical harassment, depression, loss of employment).
There are different kinds of sexual harassment, and can be distinguished into two:
1. Quid pro quo, when a woman is sexually harassed for work benefits.
2. Hostile working environment which is a positive working environment where sexual harassment is prohibited and it is the duty of the employer to provide the employee with such an environment.

1. Myth: Only women are harassed and only men are sexual harassers.
Fact: Anyone, irrespective of gender can be the victim of harassment or a harasser.

2. Myth: People invite sexual harassment by their behavior or dress.
Fact: Sexual harassment is not motivated act, but an expression of hostility and/or power focused on differences in gender or sexual orientation. People do not invite sexual harassment.

3. Myth: If ignored, the problem of sexual harassment and stalking will go away.
Fact: Generally, the harasser is persistent and does not stop on his/her own. The harasser often has more target. If ignored by the harassed, the harasser may interpret such behavior as consent or motivation.

4. Myth: Sexual Harassment is a rare occurrence.
Fact: The rate of sexual harassment is increasing throughout the world day by day. It is not a rare occurrence at all. Such incidents keep taking place each and everyday. Few victims take strict against the harasser while a few incidents goes unnoticed or not complained about.
One can prevent this issue at different levels, government, organizational and individual level by trying to prevent this issue by confronting and not blaming anyone.
● At the Organizational level the employer can provide safe and harassment free environment through provisions and regulations framed within the organization. The sense of security which can be derived from this organization policy can facilitate to work effectively and efficiently for a productive outcome. The entity can give training programme, workshops, educational programme related to sexual harassment to avoid situations.
● The organization must show commitment to this matter. Every matter must be taken seriously and investigated without any delay. This will send a message to all employees that the employer is interested in protecting the interests of women employees and also trying to bring a good working environment. Surveillance methods is a preventive measure, where CCTV are installed in the workplace.
● Employers must conduct monthly meeting with employees to know their problems. Accordingly they can provide a safe working environment.
From the angle of Government, a tremendous job has been enacting a law to eliminate this social problem of Sexual Harassment. The significant consideration part is the implementation process. There is a need to bring empowerment of women through educational programmes and knowledge which will help them to recognize and realize their basic rights. Government see that there is gender equality.
● The media can play an important role in curbing this curse from the society through films, news, advertisements, dramas these are approachable to the public and through other sources like debates, talk shows, and the media can change the mindset of the people.
If the women group or workers come to know about any such harassment, they must bring it to the notice of the complaint committee. It is the duty of the committee to keep everything confidential. Every female worker should know that it is employer’s legal duty to provide women employee with a safe working environment. All the male employees must understand these kinds of incidents affect the health, confidence and ability of a woman and will also lead her to leaving the job.
Above all these there should be social acceptability. Women should not fear to come forward with their problems and complaints. They must be feeling courageous to speak out for themselves. There must be greater involvement of public in awareness programmes and they must play a greater participatory role in governance.
● Law Reform Required: One of the limitation of this act is that it excludes men from the scope. This is not a fair treatment. The act must be amended to include men also so that they can also approach the Internal Complaint Committee/ District Committee for their grievances or complaints which can definitely show and prove equal treatment of men and women in the workplace.
● Preventing Sexual Harassment (BNA Communications, Inc.) SDC IP .73 1992 manual.
● at-the-workplace.html
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