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Workplace Sexual Harassment in India: How to Deal with It | Career Tips

Workplace Sexual Harassment in India: How to Deal with It

Naaree.com interviewed Advocate Garima Srivastava to learn about workplace sexual harassment in India. Here she explains how sexual harassment looks and how women can deal with it and fight it in the workplace and the courts.

  1. What are the most common forms of workplace sexual harassment in India?

When we think of sexual harassment at the workplace, we tend to think of a male superior/boss threatening a female employee with serious repercussions if she rejects his sexual advances or refuses to give in to demands for sexual favors.

However, the most common forms of workplace sexual harassment are insidious as opposed to direct. But, what is appalling is that these forms of sexual harassment are perceived as “harmless” by most people!

In most cases, sexual harassment proceeds in a seemingly inconspicuous manner but has detrimental effects on both the psychological well being as well as the career prospects of the victim.

The most common forms of sexual harassment at the workplace include but are not limited to:

  • unwanted invitations for dinner, dates, drinks or parties
  • obscene gestures, lewd jokes about sex or gender
  • sexual innuendos and comments, sexist remarks
  • showing pornography, sexually explicit images or offensive pictures/images
  • sending sexually explicit emails or messages or other forms of sexually explicit communication and
  • attempts at seeking physical proximity or contact with a woman.

Sexual harassment can take a variety of forms but broadly there are two forms:

a. quid pro quo sexual harassment which takes place when employment conditions and decisions are based on whether an employee is willing to grant sexual favors. Promotions, increments, work assignments, training opportunities and performance appraisals are some of the benefits that can be granted in exchange for sexual favors;

b. a hostile work environment in which unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature creates an uncomfortable environment for some employees. Sexually provocative pictures, sexually explicit conversations, inappropriate touching are all examples of this form of harassment.

The affront to personal dignity that occurs as a consequence of sexual harassment detrimentally affects the work environment. What matters is the impact of the behavior on the work environment not the intent behind the behavior. Women of all age groups and backgrounds experience sexual harassment.

  1. How can you be sure that what you’re facing classifies as sexual harassment?

The keyword here is “unwelcome”. Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct. Sexual harassment is a legally recognized form of sex discrimination.

Sex based conduct in the workplace is unwelcome when an employee does not initiate or solicit the conduct or when the employee regards the conduct as offensive. Whether the behavior was unwelcome is a subjective test, that is, it is a subjective question from the perspective of the person alleging sexual harassment.

How the alleged victim of harassment perceived and experienced the conduct of the alleged offender is pertinent not the intention behind such conduct. It is irrelevant that such behavior/conduct may not have been unwelcome to the others.

The legal test for sexual harassment has the following components:

  1. the behavior must be unwelcome;
  2. it must be of a sexual nature;
  3. it must be such that a reasonable person would anticipate in the circumstances that the harassed person would be offended, humiliated and/or intimidated.

Whether the behavior was offensive, humiliating or intimidating is an objective test which means whether a reasonable person would have anticipated that the behavior would have had this effect.

Unwelcome behavior need not be repeated or continuous. A single instance of unwelcome conduct can amount to sexual harassment.

Furthermore, the Act has widened the definition of “workplace” to include departments, branch offices, hospitals, stadiums, educational institutions or any place visited by the employee during the course of employment including transportation.

  1. What should women keep in mind when dealing with a harasser?

Dealing with a harasser is obviously not easy but what women need to bear foremost in their minds is that a complaint of sexual harassment cannot be dismissed simply because the woman subjected to harassment did not confront or inform the harasser that his conduct was unwelcome.

There is no compulsion on the woman to confront or tell the harasser directly that his behavior is unwelcome. Consent or participation which is obtained by fear, intimidation and threats will not rule out a complaint of sexual harassment.

It is the employer’s duty and responsibility under the law to provide women a safe working environment. If the employee is in a vulnerable position, she may appear to acquiesce in the unwelcome conduct of the harasser. However, this does not mean that the conduct was consensual or that sexual harassment has not occurred.

Ignoring sexual harassment will only worsen your situation so familiarize yourself with your rights and ACT. You can choose a course of action depending on the gravity of the situation but inaction will only embolden the harasser to violate rights of other women too.

Speaking up will not only help women find support but may in fact protect others from becoming victims of harassment.

  1. What legal options are available to women in India who deal with workplace sexual harassment?

Our Constitution recognizes the fundamental rights of working women under Articles 14, 15, 19 & 21.

The Supreme Court of India, in its landmark judgment in Vishaka & Others vs State of Rajasthan (1997), for the first time, recognized sexual harassment at the workplace as a human rights violation and not just a personal injury.

The judgment laid down guidelines making it mandatory for every employer to provide a mechanism to redress grievances pertaining to workplace sexual harassment. These guidelines have been codified in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act & Rules, 2013.

The ambit of this Act is very wide and its provisions are applicable to both the organized and the unorganized sectors, public and private sectors. The definition of ‘employee’ under the Act is fairly wide and covers regular, ad hoc and temporary employees, individuals engaged on a daily wage basis, contract labour, probationers, trainees, apprentices and even voluntary and domestic workers.

The Act requires an employer to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at each office or branch of an organization employing at least 10 people. The government is required to set up a Local Complaints Committee (LCC) at the district level to investigate complaints of sexual harassment from organizations where the ICC has not been constituted owing to the organization having less than 10 employees or where the complaint is against the employer.

The Act sets out constitution of the Committees, the procedure to be followed for making a complaint and the investigation that has to be completed within a stipulated timeframe: a written complaint has to be filed by the harassed female employee (“aggrieved woman” under the law) within 3 months of the date of the incident.

The Complaints Committees have the powers of civil courts to gather evidence. The Committee is required to complete the inquiry within a period 90 days. Upon completion of the inquiry, the Report will be sent to the employer or the District Officer, as the case may be, and they have to take action on the Report within 60 days.

The complainant also has the option to ask the Complaints Committee to facilitate conciliation before initiating an enquiry. If a settlement is arrived at between the parties, no further inquiry shall be conducted by the ICC or the LCC.

However, if the aggrieved woman informs the ICC or the LCC that any term of the settlement has not been complied with by the respondent (alleged offender), the ICC or the LCC shall proceed to make an inquiry into the complaint or forward the complaint to the police.

The inquiry process has to be confidential and a penalty is imposed where confidentiality is breached. During the pendency of the inquiry of the ICC/LCC, on a written request by the aggrieved woman, the ICC/LCC can recommend the employer to transfer the aggrieved woman or the respondent to any other workplace or grant leave to the aggrieved woman up to a period of 3 months or grant such other relief as may be prescribed.

Under the Companies Act, 2013, sexual harassment can also be reported by a third party or a whistleblower. Furthermore, the law has made provisions for friends, co-workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and legal heirs to file a complaint if the aggrieved woman is unable to make her complaint owing to physical or mental incapacity or death.

Under the Act, it is the employer’s duty to provide assistance to the aggrieved woman if she chooses to file a complaint under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or any other law, cause to initiate under the IPC or any other law against the perpetrator or if the aggrieved woman so desires, where the perpetrator is not an employee, in the workplace at which the incident of sexual harassment took place and treat sexual harassment as misconduct under the service rules and initiate action for such misconduct. There is penalty for non-compliance with the provisions of the Act.

The Indian Penal Code was amended in April 2013 to include a new section pertaining to sexual harassment of women. The Criminal Law Amendment Act has introduced Section 354A which enlists the acts which constitute the offence of sexual harassment and prescribes penalty for the same.

Section 354A includes within the scope of sexual harassment the following acts:

  1. Physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures;
  2. A demand or request for sexual favors;
  3. Showing pornography against the will of the woman; and
  4. Making sexually colored remarks
  1. What is the best way to go about reporting sexual harassment?

Before I answer this question, I must point out that most women do not report sexual harassment at the workplace because they apprehend retaliation by the employer or the harasser.

In most cases where sexual harassment is proved, employers may terminate the employment of a harasser but eventually they may terminate the employment of the complainant as well as she is perceived as a “troublemaker”, not the recipient of trouble.

Very often the harasser is a superior who wields control over the reporting employee’s prospects for promotion, status of her progress at work and the most convenient weapon in the arsenal of such harassers is raising “performance issues” against the complainant or giving her a negative feedback during appraisals.

Similarly, a retaliating employer can threaten the complainant’s job prospects in another company by giving the prospective employer an adverse report on her competence, credentials and even moral conduct.

Often the only witness is a co-worker who may be reluctant to depose against another colleague or a superior. Consequently, the ICC could find the complaint “not proved” for lack of evidence and label it a “false” or “malicious” complaint not recognizing the crucial difference between a complaint “not proved” and a “false” or “malicious” complaint.

These are genuine fears that overwhelm a harassed woman but unfortunately, it is the reality, especially of corporate India. Most corporate entities have been found to be largely non-compliant with the law on sexual harassment. Now in this scenario, how does a woman go about reporting workplace harassment?

Women must always bear in mind that there is no one way of responding to harassment. Every situation is different and if the victim is unable to evaluate the situation for herself to take suitable action against the harasser, she must consult a lawyer who can give her clarity on the best course of action because facts pertaining to unwelcome conduct would have to be brought within the purview of the law to satisfy the tests for establishing sexual harassment.

If you are feeling harassed, document the situation immediately: include dates, time, places, incidents, names of person(s) involved and witnesses.

Maintain a record of phone calls, web chats, SMS/MMS, emails or any other communication that will help to establish the factum of harassment. Put down your grievance(s) in writing or in an electronic form and report it to Human Resources Department.

As stated above, “unwelcome” conduct is an essential requirement of sexual harassment. Firmly refuse any offers of dinners, parties, drinks or other forms of socialization which are not work related. Most importantly, speak to your colleagues about your experiences with the harasser because chances are that you are not the sole victim of harassment.

If your employer retaliates against you, you may seek the assistance of an NGO or write in to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs or the Ministry of Women and Child Development or even directly approach the police where the offence is of a criminal nature such as stalking, molestation, assault or demand for sexual favors.

  1. What are the steps that a woman should take to ensure that her complaint is taken seriously?

Despite the stringent provisions of law, there is no certainty that a female employee’s complaint of sexual harassment will be taken seriously by her employer. As I have pointed out above, most employers have been found to be non-compliant with the law on sexual harassment.

The best course of action is to let your employer know that you will escalate your complaint with the higher authorities if you have reasonable grounds to believe that it will not act on your complaint seriously or is likely to retaliate against you or victimize you.

  1. Is there anything else to keep in mind?

Sexual harassment is linked with power and is designed to coerce women; in fact it’s a combination of unacceptable sexual behavior and abuse of power in a society which often treats women as sex objects.

The Sexual Harassment Act has been enacted with the objective of providing women protection against sexual harassment at the workplace, prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment.

Presence or occurrence of circumstances of implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in employment, threat of detrimental treatment in employment and threat about present or future employment affect the aggrieved woman’s health and safety and amount to sexual harassment.

Victimization, vilification and retaliation are common consequences faced by women who report sexual harassment but in my opinion, despite all these odds stacked against women, rising number of complaints of sexual harassment against men occupying high profile offices indicates that finally harassers who abuse power are increasingly finding themselves in the dock and facing social embarrassment if not imprisonment or termination of employment. This is a positive development.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development has released a Handbook on the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013. It is a ready reckoner for aggrieved women, employers and members of ICC and an initiative to spread awareness about workplace sexual harassment.

All employers and working women should consult this handbook as it prescribes best practices to enable a harassment free workplace.

Garima Srivastava is an Advocate practicing in New Delhi. She conducts workshops across India to create awareness among women pertaining to their rights under various laws, especially laws applicable in the workplace. Her areas of practice and interest include constitutional law, environmental law, corporate and commercial laws, consumer disputes and child rights. You can write in to her at advocategarima@gmail.com or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Workplace Sexual Harassment in India: How to Deal with It | Career Tips

How To Get Business Loans For A Woman Owned Business In India

The number of women involved in economical activities in India has increased tremendously in last couple of decades hailing to the women empowerment. To keep up with the pace, government and banks have devised many schemes for hassle-free loan issuance to women entrepreneurs.

Banks are providing loans at lower interest rates and the government has offered many subsidies to tag along with it. Starting from housing to education and even for setting up of any MSME, there is a scheme for everything.

All of these may sound all easy and interesting, but practically availing them becomes a tiresome job which most women pass by. They tend to go to the local lenders or to some private financing and end up entangled in the web of problems.

In this article, we have showcased some government and bank loan schemes and facilities provided to women-owned businesses in India.

FUNDING FOR WOMAN ENTREPRENEURS AND GOVERNMENTAL SCHEMES

On 8th April 2015, the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi launched the very ambitious Mudra Yojana Scheme for Women. This scheme has special provisions for women entrepreneurs with the basic idea of “Funding the Unfunded”.

This scheme has easy loan dispersal for woman who wants to set up beauty parlors, tailoring units, tuition centers and various other ventures. And all these loans are collateral free!

How to Avail Mudra Loan?

Grants for women starting a business are now easily available under this scheme. Being collateral free funding, this scheme comes as a great relief to the woman aspirants.

Even procedure to avail the loan is quite simple. You have to contact the local financial institution of your respective region and they will guide you through. Here is a list of financial institutions whom you can contact:

  • Scheduled Commercial Banks (Public/Private)
  • Regional Rural Banks
  • Scheduled Urban Co-operative Banks
  • State Co-operative Banks
  • Micro Financial Institutions (such as Societies and Trusts)

There will be a verification of few formalities to follow up and the verified female candidate then will receive a Mudra Card. This Mudra card is a credit system with which you can withdraw credit up to INR 10,000 at a time as business grants for women.

In addition to this facility, grants for women can also be availed under the Sishu, Kishor and Tarun schemes as well. The number of women benefitted under these schemes are expected to double or even tripled in the coming year. Government loans for women in India were never this easy.

HOW TO GET BANK FUNDING FOR A WOMAN-OWNED BUSINESS IN INDIA?

Depending upon the business you want to set up, many governmental financial institutions have customized schemes for different purposes. SIDBI has always been a supportive structure for people involved and interested in MSME sector, and it is especially liberal for women.

Oriental Bank of Commerce Schemes 

To encourage women in building up small business setups and use their skills, SIDBI has big and small business funding. For small businesses such as setting up of Beauty Parlors, Boutiques, Saloons and Tailoring, a scheme, Oriental Bank of Commerce (OBC) offers a scheme that gives up to 10 lakh for furniture, equipments, working capital and day to day expenses of business.

There is another Scheme for Professional & Self Employed Women by OBC for purchasing of fixed assets and other working capital needs. The maximum loan limit is 5 lakh with Working Capital limit of 1 lakh.

Punjab and Sind Bank Udyogini Scheme

This is one of the best ways to avail grants for women business owners. This P&S Bank Udyogini Scheme offers easy loan access on liberal terms and exclusive credit facility for direct agriculture activities. It also offers loan for tiny SSI sector, business enterprises, retail traders etc.

It can be availed by an individual women or a group of women if they own not less than 51% of share capital. No collateral is required to avail loan under this scheme but just the hypothecation of assets bought with that fund.

Annapurna Scheme

This scheme for financing Women for establishing Food Catering Units from State Bank of Mysore (now merged with State Bank of India) is available for individuals as well as for partnership firms.

The maximum credit limit is Rs 50,000 with 50% limit for Working Capital portion. It is also a collateral free credit scheme with the security being hypothecation of assets funded out of the bank loan.

Stree Shakti Package

State Bank of Hyderabad (now merged with SBI) offers this Stree Shakti Package to any individual or partnership firm owned by women entrepreneurs.

The scheme aims at developing entrepreneurship among women by providing loan at concessional rate and other additional facilities to trained women entrepreneurs.

There is no maximum limit for loan on this scheme; it is supposed to be customized on depending on the purpose. There is no collateral required for loans up to 10 lakh and above that you need to give collateral of 40%-50%.

Akshaya Mahila Arthik Sahay Yojana

The Akshaya Mahila Arthik Sahay Yojna scheme by Bank of Baroda, is aimed at women involved in/setting up of retail trade, village or cottage/small scale industries and allied agriculture activities. It has a fixed rate of interests at reasonable terms and quite simple application procedure.

Dena Shakti Scheme

The Dena Shakti Scheme from Dena Bank has been modified to increase the outreach of the program by including many additional activities and sectors that were not covered before. The sectors are covered on the basis of priority sector and it includes the following sectors:

  • Allied agriculture activities
  • MSME for manufacturing and services industry
  • Retail trade
  • Micro credit
  • Housing
  • Education

The quantum of loans for all the sectors is in accordance with the directives of RBI for priority sector lending; such as 20 lakh for retail trading, 20 lakh for education and housing and Rs 50,000 under micro-credit.

It has been decades that women were encouraged to increase their involvement in economic sector but it has so far been in vain. Anything done this far only marginally helped women to stand up.

But, since last few financial years, the government as well as RBI has been keen to walk the talk. These schemes are facilities are already showing results and are about to bring a revolutionary change in the way system works.

For further help and first hand guidance, women can visit any nearby financial institution and they will be happy to help you out. You can also go through the website of MSME sector of government of India, SIDBI and RBI for the special schemes. You can even file grievances directly to the PMO.

Workplace Sexual Harassment in India: How to Deal with It | Career Tips

Are Indian Working Women ‘Leaning In’ To Their Careers?

The answer is not as obvious as the question and answering it in a definite “Yes” or “No” would be unfair by most yardsticks. The best way to get any closer to the answer is getting answers from real life working women.

Women are definitely investing more in their education and as any ambitious career person they would like to see themselves in a very good position in a few years. But it is not a straight highway they want to ride on to. It is more of a roller-coaster ride especially when they enter three major phases of their lives.

The first one being their marriage, second being their maternity time, and third one being big moves by their spouse. In India we have seen women function as the epitome of sacrifice, and if they wade through these three phases of life while handling their career too, they are seen as selfish, highly ambitious women.

Thankfully, times are changing even if the change is apparent in just a few pockets of the society or in a few states.

“There are women who manage their careers with certain help. We’ve got plenty of services oriented towards working women, domestic help always comes to rescue and then there are in-laws who support their daughters-in-law to save their careers.”, clarifies Mrs Soni who is herself working in a leading HR firm.

In families where the woman is the sole earner, or families where they have higher salaries than their male counterpart, they tend to lean in more. No compromise is their motto and things are getting easier for them too.

Products like cleaning robots and ready-to-eat curries are also pointing towards the trend that women want automation of most of the household chores, so that they can pay more attention towards their career goals.

A very different trend starting now-a-days is if you’ve taken a break, you can start afresh. This fresh idea of starting all over again was also accepted very well by highly qualified women pointing towards their interest in their career.

“Tata group had started something for a woman which was welcomed by many women who had the gap of at most 8 years in their careers and who were either professionals or post-graduates. I hope they also come up with these kinds of schemes for other women too”, suggests Mrs Mehta.

The graph is certainly changing where Indian working women are “leaning in” to their careers.

“Society wants them to take full responsibility of the festivals, children’s education and family. Is it a burden or something they have to do while sacrificing their career? No, is the answer, because happy woman will always contribute better. Frustrated career woman can never be at peace as a homemaker. So I believe being in the rat race sometimes helps achieve better”, argues Mrs Walia, who is working in an IT firm.

Financially, too, it is a wise decision if a woman leans in to her career, until and unless it is really required to bid farewell to her career for some reason. Soaring prices of real estate and education is the reason why some women continue and in the process they achieve their professional goals, too.

If we want to see India flourish then we should be ready to accept this change with open arms.

© Naaree.com