Sexual Harassment: Work from Home Mode
Honey Chandnani, Vivekanand Education Society’s College of Law, Mumbai
Sexual Harassment: Work from Home Mode
With Covid-19, work from home is becoming new normal. This situation has compelled people to give consideration to the work from home on a long term basis. The Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 was enacted to ensure safe working for women and to create an environment where equal rights and opportunities are respected. Sexual Harassment is about the prevalence of men over women and it just proves that women are weaker than a man in society. Workplaces need to emphasize more on awareness otherwise the legal changes are unlikely to be unsuccessful.
Instances where women have been a victim of sexual harassment online:-
Recently, a woman who was attending a team meeting virtually with the colleague and manager, the manager and the employee appeared shirtless in the virtual meeting which was not resistible by the women and she had to leave the virtual meeting abruptly. In this case, the woman had no idea that she was sexually harassed online and due to work from home scenario, she could not discuss the same with her colleagues and had no idea about the actions to be taken against her colleague and the manager.
Does the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 recognizes Work from home through the online medium?
Section 2(o) of the Act defines ‘workplace’ in a non-exhaustive and inclusive manner under sub-clause (vi), the workplace doesn't necessarily mean the physical space of a workplace. Although the Act refers to a dwelling place or house. At this time when work from home is mandatory for most of the offices the meaning of workplace would also cover work from home under Section 2(o) (vi).
The POSH Act is clear that it covers both organized and unorganized sectors and includes work-related off-site, office party, get- together, social media groups etc.
Therefore Sexual Harassment occurring from online medium while working from home would also cover under the scope of Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013.
What non-physical actions would constitute as Sexual Harassment?
● Not maintaining the dress code during the video conference
● Repeatedly calling you.
● Sends any video or picture that is obscene.
● Inappropriate messages with inappropriate emojis
● Showing pornography
● Saying something that is sexual in nature, offensive jokes
● Demanding for sexual favour this could be through text message, email or could be verbal or even of implied nature which could impact her work.
● Undefined working hours.
What should a woman do immediately if she is sexually harassed online:-
● Record and collect evidence where she is sexually harassed virtually i.e. take a screenshot of the chat.
● The victim must then approach the Internal Complaint Committee or Local Complaint Committee.
● If there is no Internal Complaint committee then the women can file an FIR in the nearest police station.
● After the complaint is made to ICC then a notice will be issued to the Respondent within 7 days on the receipt of the complaint.
● Inquiry into the complaint must get over in 90 days and whatever is the decision of the ICC that must be implemented within 60 days.
What are the steps that are needed to be taken and legal remedies available to a woman who is sexually harassed online:-
The remedies mentioned under the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 are as follows:-
The aggrieved woman is needed to file the complaint within a period of 3 months from the date the incident took place but this can be extended up to 6 months if the ICC acknowledges the reasons for not filing the complaint within the prescribed time. The internal complaint committee and Local Complaint committee can provide for interim relief. The Internal complaint committee and Local Complaint committee can receive complaints online and conduct the enquiry online through the proofs. The Internal Complaint committee now holds the meetings online of the parties and records before seeking permission from them and then a copy of the call is then sent to both the parties and acknowledged by them.
The reliefs which can be provided by the Internal Complaint Committee are as follows:
● The aggrieved women or the respondent would be transferred as decided;
● granting leave to the aggrieved women for a period of 3 months;
● or as the committee deems fit.
● However, in case of work from home, the respondent or the aggrieved women could be transferred in different teams to avoid contact.
There are legislations also that deal with online sexual harassment that is Indian Penal Code, Information Technology Act, Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013. However, to invoke Penal provisions the victim has to file FIR physically at the police stations which would be restricted due to the lockdown in some places. The same is the case with the Information Technology Act the victim has to file a case in the tribunals to get relief under this Act.
The only feasible option during this time of pandemic for the victim will be to get relief by filing a complaint with the Internal Complaint Committee under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 which has helped in combating sexual harassment at workplace i.e. working from home for companies.
It can be only concluded that organizations should make proper rules and guidelines against harassment and discrimination. The work from home/ virtual workspace should be a safe workspace for the employees. Webinars should be conducted to spread awareness against the policies made by the organization. Protection of the employees from all kinds of discrimination and harassment should be the prime responsibility of the employees.