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A woman employee of IL&FS has sought a compensation of Rs. 6 crores from the organization complaining to the police that IL&FS did not do anything to redress her complaints while a senior officer in her organization was sexually harassing her by using abusive language after she refused his advances, Economic Times reported on 19th August, 2015. She also said to the police that the organization tried to suppress the matter by offering her monetary settlement. As reported, even though IL&FS did not agree with the allegations, it referred to dialogues from Hindi films such as Dabangg, Omkara and Gangs of Wasseypur to state that the language used in such movies can be deemed acceptable! (link provided below). Earlier this year, we saw a similar case related to compensation in which the Madras High Court directed a company to pay Rs. 1.68 crore as damages to an aggrieved woman for not setting up an internal complaints committee (ICC) to inquire into allegations of sexual harassment, (discussed in the following link: 

http://indianwomenandlaw.blogspot.in/2015/04/company-to-pay-rs-168-crore-as-damages.html).

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (the Act), does not specifically provide for such liability of a company in case procedure under the Act is not followed. However, it appears that the Indian courts are also going the US way, where victims received a total of $43 million in fiscal 2012 for 7,571 complaints of sexual harassment, compared to $54.6 million in 2000 for 15,500 complaints. The courts in USA appear to be willing to intervene on a host of issues and complaints, including inadequate action by employer, resulting in liability and on one case, the US Court of Appeals had held that to avoid liability an employer must take at least some sort of disciplinary action against the harassing employee in order to prevent future sexual harassment at work.

From the two recent cases, it looks like such complaints, holding employers liable would continue to follow in India, leading not only to financial but also reputational damage. Keeping the above in mind, employers should try to do their best to prevent cases of sexual harassment so that in case of a complaint, they can justify their argument that they took reasonable steps to prevent the event from occurring. Hence, among several other things, employers must have a sexual harassment policy in place, have posters in the workplace to show zero tolerance towards sexual harassment and must conduct training programmes (for all employees in the workplace, regardless of seniority). They should ensure that the ICC is duly constituted in accordance with the provisions of law, monetary compensation is not made the basis for settlement and all matters are kept confidential.

P.S.: Quoting dialogues from Hindi films such as Dabangg, Omkara and Gangs of Wasseypur to justify use of such/similar language at workplace may not be a good defence for a company in my opinion!

Note: For legal commentary, sample forms and compliance related details on the law of sexual harassment at workplace, you can refer to the Book, 'Handbook on the Law of Sexual Harassment at Workplace', by Shivangi Prasad and Attreyi Mukherjee. You can also write to me on: prasad.shivangi@gmail.com in case of any questions with respect to the law.

You can read more on this law on our blog: http://indianwomenandlaw.blogspot.in/


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