THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF WOMEN AT WORKPLACE (PREVENTION, PROHIBITION AND REDRESSAL) ACT, 2013

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The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is the Central legislation which aims to safeguard woman from the evil practice of sexual harassment at work place. The Lok Sabha approved the bill in September 2012 whereas the Rajya Sabha passed the bill on February 2013. The President granted assent to the bill on April 23, 2013 and the Act came into effect on December 9, 2013. The preamble of the Act points out that the Act aims to safeguard women against sexual harassment during work and for avoidance and granting remedy for complaints and other matters related with the subject. The Parliament has kept in mind that the outcome of sexual harassment is the breach of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14 (Right to equality) and Article 15 (Prohibition of discrimination) as well as Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) and Article 19(1)(g) (Right to practice any trade, occupation etc.) which is inclusive of protection against sexual harassment. The Parliament also complies with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Woman in which India is also a State party.

The Act is also an upshot of guidelines issued under the landmark case of Vishaka v. State of Haryana. The legal machinery was highly condemned for lack of proper legislative mechanism to implement the laws already in force to protect women. The guidelines issued by the Supreme Court opened the way for highly remarked social welfare legislation to be enacted in 2013. The Act adds schools and colleges, patient admitted in hospitals, local authorities who will have to constitute grievance committee to enquire on the complaints. The failure on the part of the employers leads to imprisonment and fine.

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The legislation defines the term sexual harassment at work place and frames a system to remedy the complaints brought before such authority. It grants protection against frivolous and malevolent charges. The meaning of aggrieved woman has given wide connotation which includes all women in spite of the age, employment and status. The act considers all woman equally whether they be in organized or unorganized sectors, private or public areas, domestic workers etc. The Act even goes beyond the findings of the Supreme Court in Vishaka Case and points out that workplace includes departments, institutions, stadiums, complex, hospitals, nursing homes, sports institutes etc. The Act requires a Committee to be constituted which shall complete the enquiry within 90 days. After completing the enquiry, the report is taken to the employer or District officer. They are instructed to take necessary steps within a period of sixty days. The employer is insisted by the Act to establish an Internal Complaints Committee in every office or branch consisting of ten or more than ten employees. The District officer is also mandated to create a Local Complaints Committee in every district and at block level if necessitated. The Complaints Committee shall have the authority of a civil court to collect necessary evidence. The Committee is also obliged to give conciliation prior to conducting inquiry when such a request is made by the complainant. The employers are inflicted with penalties and non-compliance with the provisions would lead to criminal responsibility.

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Essentially, the Act will guarantee that women are safeguarded from sexual harassment in almost all private or public work places. Such protection will put in to recognition of the right under gender equality and personal liberty in every work place. The assurance of secured job will enhance the working situations far and wide. The participation of woman will progress effectively which results in social and economic empowerment and complete development. Though the Bill was passed by the Union Cabinet in 2010, it took a long period to shape into the form of legislation. After some amendments and changes, the Act was published in the Gazette of India.