‘Yawning gaps in yet to be notified Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act’

As the UPA government rushes to notify the much delayed Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act in wake of the Tarun Tejpal sex assault case, experts point to severe gaps that need to be plugged for the law to be effective.

By ZRG | Updated: Nov 30, 2013, 12:06 PM IST

Rashi Aditi Ghosh /Zee Research Group

As the UPA government rushes to notify the much delayed Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act in wake of the Tarun Tejpal sex assault case, experts point to severe gaps that need to be plugged for the law to be effective. A strong call has therefore been made to revisit among others the Justice Verma committee recommendations on sexual harassment at workplace.

Justice J.S Verma Committee, set up post Nirbhaya gang rape last December, in its report earlier this year recommended that conciliation provision under the complaint committee mechanism be not considered as and that an independent employment tribunal adjudicate on the complaint. Both these recommendations do not as of now form part of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.

The view that the current guidelines under the yet to be notified Act are inadequate is profound. Smriti Minocha, former director of women justice initiative Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) and a member of the Suggestive Committee for Parliamentarians on sexual harassment said, “The new law lacks depth since it fails to consider many important recommendations suggested by Verma Committee report. I strongly believe that if it is passed in its current form it (Act) will very soon go for reconsideration.”

Apart from conciliation provision, the new Sexual Harassment Act like the Vishakha guidelines failed to provide any clear cut framework on formulation of guidelines for the companies.

Talking about one of the major loopholes from companies’ perspective, human resource consultant, Arti Chaudhry, added, “I personally believe that there are no major differences between the provisions in Vishakha guidelines and the new Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace(Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. In my view the major problem suffered by organizations in sexual harassment cases is the quantum of punishment. Neither Vishakha guidelines nor the new Act talks about nature of punishment leaving judgment completely open to interpretation.”

On the other hand commenting on the importance of sexual harassment committees within companies, Kris Lakshmikanth, CEO `The Head Hunters India` said, “It is good to have guidelines to combat sexual harassment at workplace because now more and more women are working in the organised sector and most of them have male bosses.”

The new Act is subjected to further criticism by many men rights activists’ who argue it is discriminatory since it is not gender neutral. Commenting on gender neutral policies in the organized sector, Chaudhry averred, “Some organizations are now forming gender neutral guidelines against sexual harassment but the number of complaints received from men is quite low in comparison to women. This shows that women are more vulnerable.”

On the other hand, Laxmikant from `The Head Hunters India` commented, “To maintain a balance between both the genders we prefer to have transparent glass cubicles. This from the first day gives both the genders a positive vibe of equality. There is a little space thus for sexual harassment in such environment.”

There, however, is no consensus on the employment tribunal proposed earlier by Justice Verma committee. Human resource consultant Chaudhry said, “I am glad that the clause of employment tribunal is not enforced in the new Act because in the first instance women hesitates to file a complaint and on top of it if she has to go out and report chances of higher reporting of sexual harassment would automatically come down.”