Workplace harassment / Speak Up / Speaking Out / women at work

How to deal with sexual harassment at work

. 5 min read . Written by Muskan Miglani
How to deal with sexual harassment at work

Source: The Gazette of India

The government enacted The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 to protect women in the workplace as well as provide redressal. The Gazette of India defines the act as:

An act to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

As per the act, the following may amount to sexual harassment:

  1. Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment; or
  2. Implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in her employment; or
  3. Implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status; or
  4. Interference with her work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment with her; or
  5. Humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety.

Complaints Committees for Women

Every employer should constitute a committee known as the Internal Complaints Committee.

The ICC will consist of the following members:

  1. Presiding Officer: A woman employed at a senior level at the workplace from amongst the employees
  2. Not less than two members from the employees preferably committed to the cause of women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge
  3. One member from among non-governmental organisations or associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issue relating to sexual harassment.

At least half of the total members of the ICC must be women.


  1. The Presiding Officer as well as all the members of the committee shall hold office for not more than three years from the date of their appointment, and
  2. The member appointed from the non-governmental organisation or association shall be paid an allowance for holding proceedings of the ICC, by the employer.

While the Internal Complaints Committee operates at the company level, the Local Complaints Committee is constituted at the district level on orders of the government. The jurisdiction of the said committee extends to all the areas of the district where it is constituted.

A Local Complaints Committee comprises of the following members nominated by the District Officer:

  1. A Chairperson to be nominated from amongst the eminent women in the field of social work and committed to the cause of women;
  2. One member to be nominate from amongst the women working in block, taluka, tehsil, ward, or municipality in the district;
  3. Two members, of whom at least one shall be a woman, to be nominated from amongst such non-governmental organisations or associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment;
  4. The concerned officer dealing with the social welfare or women and child development in the district, shall be a member ex officio.

The Chairperson and every member of the Local Complaints Committee shall hold office for no more than three years from the date of their appointment by the District Officer.

Filing a Complaint

- As per The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, and aggrieved woman may make a complaint, in writing, to the Internal Complaints Committee, or the Local Committee (in case the former doesn’t exist), withing a period of three years from the date of the incident. In case multiple incidents have happened, the complaint must be made within three months from the date of the last incident.

- In case a woman is unable to make a written complaint, it is the committee’s responsibility to make a written complaint through the Presiding Officer, a member (in case of ICC), or Chairperson or a member (in case of LCC).

- Given the committee is unable to make a written complaint, the time limit can be extended by another three months if the circumstances satisfy the criteria that the woman was prevented from filing a complaint.

- In case a woman is unable to make a complaint due to physical or mental incapacity, or in cases of death, her legal heir or other such people may make the complaint in her place.

- Before initiating an inquiry, the Committee can, at the request of the aggrieved woman, take steps to settle the matter between her and the respondent through conciliation.

This is provided that no monetary settlement be used as the basis of conciliation.

- In case a settlement has been arrived at, the Committee will record the settlement and take further action. The copies of the settlement are provided to the aggrieved woman and the respondent. Once a settlement has been reached, no further inquiry will be made into the matter.

- In case a settlement is not reached, the Committee shall go forward and make an inquiry into the complaints as per the rules of the organisation. If no such rules exist, a complaint will be made with the police within 7 days of registering the complaint to the Committee. The complaint is filed under section 509 of Indian Penal Code.

- In case a settlement is reached but the respondent does not comply with the same, the same procedure is followed and an inquiry into the matter is ensued.

During this period, both the parties are equally heard and a copy of the proceedings and findings is made available to both of them to ensure equal representation.

  • If the respondent is found guilty of the offence, the court may order payment of such terms as it considers appropriate to the aggrieved woman by the respondent.
  • For making the inquiry, both the Internal Complaints Committee as well as the Local Complaints Committee are vested with the same power as a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
  • The inquiry is to be completed within 90 days of registering the complaint.
  • While the matter is being looked into, the aggrieved woman may put a written request with the Committee, who can then direct the employer to:
  1. Transfer the woman or the respondent to any other workplace;
  2. Grant leave to the aggrieved woman up to a period of 3 months;
  3. Grant such other relief to the aggrieved woman as may be prescribed.

The leave granted during this period is additional to the leave the woman is otherwise entitled to.

Upon the completion of the complaint

  • Upon completion, the Internal Complaints Committee or the Local Complaints Committee will submit a report to the employer or District Officer, respectively, within a period of 10 days from the completion of the inquiry. The findings will also be shared with the two parties concerned.
  • If the allegation has not been proved, the Committee shall direct the employer to take no action.
  • If the allegation on the respondent is proved, and he is found guilty, then:
  1. Actions are taken as per the rules against the conduct of sexual harassment;
  2. The employer may deduct the amount that the respondent owes the aggrieved woman from the former’s salary. In case the employer is unable to deduct that amount, the respondent is directed to make the payment to the aggrieved woman.
  • Any findings or reports of the matter concerning the proceedings, conciliation, or inquiry of the matter cannot be published or communicated to the public, media, or press in any manner.

Duties of the employer

As per the act, every employer shall:

  1. Provide a safe working environment at the workplace which shall include safety from persons coming into the workplace.
  2. Display the penal consequences of sexual harassment as well as the order constituting the Internal Complaints Committee.
  3. Organise workshops and orientations at regular intervals to sensitise the employees.
  4. Provide necessary facilities to the Internal Complaints Committee or the Local Complaints Committee, for dealing with a complaint and conducting an inquiry.
  5. Assist in securing the attendance of respondent and witness before the Committee.
  6. Make available such information to the Committee as it may require with regard to the complaint made.
  7. Provide assistance to the woman is she chooses to file a complaint in relation to the offence.
  8. Cause to initiate action under IPC or any other law for the time being in force, against the perpetrator, or if the aggrieved woman so desires, where the perpetrator is not an employee, in the workplace at which the incident took place.
  9. Treat sexual harassment as a misconduct under the service rules and initiate action for such misconduct.
  10. Monitor the timely submission of reports by the ICC.

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