Frivolous complaints under sexual Harassment of women at workplace Act, 2013
Author: Snigdha Shandilya and Pritish Kumar Pattnaik
Milestones are not easy to achieve and need struggles. The same goes for the sixth sexual Harassment of women workplace Act 2013, which was passed in 2013. These guidelines were drawn after 16 years based on Vishakha’s judgment, and the motive behind this act was not only to implement strict laws for sexual harassment of women in the workplace. This act also has provisions to look after an accused person’s rights, until he is proven guilty and the management of any damage to corporate’s brand name. This new legislation also comes to meet up challenges like biased proceedings or wrongful accusation by enforcing proper legal procedures. The act laid mandatory guidelines for implementing gender equality of working women, which was amongst must awaited developments. Its main aim was to create a healthy and safe environment for working women.
Sexual Harassment has also been considered under articles 14, 15, and 21 of the constitution to violate fundamental rights, equality, and to live with dignity. Moreover, it has also been considered a violation of the right to practice any occupation, trade, or business under 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. The Hon’ble Supreme Courts defined sexual Harassment as unwelcome behavior, that can be verbal or non-verbal, physical contact, or any form of sexually colored remarks, or pressurizing to watch any sort of pornographic contents. The statue provides strict guidelines regarding such an explicit promise of preferential treatment at the workplace or any threat related to present or future employment, Interference in work, abusive work environment, and humiliating treatment. The act also provides Female employees to approach conciliation but not in the cases of monetary settlement. Besides this, the act also aimed to spread awareness by organizing workshops and awareness programs for employees. Such complaints can amount to the penalty of INR 50,000 to an employer who fails to organize internal committee complaints. The man committing offense could also be imprisoned for the term 1-3 years or fine or both.
However, this tool, which was supposed to be used as a protection for women turn out as a loophole in some cases where false allegations were made against men. This has an even more negative impact on their reputation and career, leading to losing a job. This act is not gender-neutral and gives no protection for male employees to claim any relief. Besides this, the obligation of time bound for the employer to address the grievances may not be possible as the witness or employee doesn’t quickly get agree to co-operate even after maintaining strict confidentiality. Although the law protects the employer in case of false complaints
Frivolous Allegations by Women Employees
The act, being gender-neutral, also provides relief to males for frivolous complaints alleged by women, but this has chances to deter the victim further from filing complaints, which may overturn the purpose for which law was enacted. The provision contains punishment for women under such circumstances. The ICC can also recommend the employer take strict actions against such female employees to lodge malicious complaints or produce any misleading document regarding it. However, the complainant needs to find strong evidence to make his case strong by making the charges void. The act tries to create a balance between providing justice for women and frivolous complaints against men by submitting additional inquiry procedures to ensure before any final action.
The ICC needs to undergo proper research and investigation to find malicious intent behind filing the complaint, which also arose the need for adequate training of the members to extract the evidence. The evidence includes text messages or behaviors which need to link for finding the actual context. There have been several cases where the women have tried threatening while taking media support, which has caused defamation of the employee and company. Such things create pressure on the employer to favor the complainant and lead to a suspension for the accused. In such cases, the Employer should refer to court instead of suspension for a fair chance.
Some of the challenges faced with the implementation of acts were-
The involvement of non-governmental members with social work experience leads to disclosure of confidentiality and uncomforted female employees. However, the male employee can plead for the lack of intention, which can be dismissed by the opposition. They can also state reasons for it being consensual or mutual, which may not be disapproved. Section 14 of the act also tries to deal with the issue by giving punishments for such frivolous complaints. But here, the lack of proof doesn’t mean that the complaint was malicious, which makes it more challenging to establish the genuinity. One more problem with frivolous cases is that once the complaint gets filed, it cannot be rejected without an inquiry.
The act also mandates an explanation from the female employee stating physical contact or remarks, which she found unwelcome in detail. The same rule applies to the accused, who need to state about the displeasure, which fails the female employee’s allegations. It was observed that most of the employees could not express the details due to uncomforted and other social pressures. This leads to the rejection of her complaint because the law can only help those who gather the courage to speak for them.
There must be awareness programs to remind the employee about the consequences of filing a malicious complaint. If the management at any point feels about the maliciousness, they must encourage the employee for conciliation. The conciliator will make a separate meeting with the parties, and the matter would be monitored to minimize the abuses and resolve the differences. The focus should also remain on apologies instead of any monetary compensation.
A few years back. #METOO movement gained a lot of popularity were the women opened up about being sexually harassed at the workplace. Similarly, the famous Retired Supreme court judge Gogoi arose by his assistant, which accused him of an improper touch. The inquiry was led, but the complainant was found to have a criminal background. Later the case got uplifted by her believing that she won’t get justice.
- Lexology.com.. India’S New Labour Law – Prevention Of Sexual Harassment At The Workplace Lexology. 2020 [online] Available at:<https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=cb74f2ac-f7c5-44f8-b607-aea2f735cef4>.
- Mondaq.com. India’S New Labour Law – Prevention Of Sexual Harassment At The Workplace – Employment And HR – India. 2020 [online] Available at: https://www.mondaq.com/india/discrimination-disability-sexual-harassment/238076/indias-new-labour-law–prevention-of-sexual-harassment-at-the-workplace.
- Mondaq.com. India’S New Labour Law – Prevention Of Sexual Harassment At The Workplace – Employment And HR – India. . 2020 [online] Available at: https://www.mondaq.com/india/discrimination-disability-sexual-harassment/238076/indias-new-labour-law–prevention-of-sexual-harassment-at-the-workplace.