Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, Rewards and Recognition
Sexual harassment is shockingly and unfortunately, a common workplace issue across the world. In India itself, there was 54% rise in registered workplace sexual harassment cases between 2014 and 2017. The number could be still higher because many cases go unregistered officially for several reasons:
- The victim is afraid or embarrassed to speak up.
- The victim is unaware of the company policies on this matter and legal course of action to follow.
- The victim chooses to resolve the issue with the offender/company through mutually acceptable settlement.
It should be noted that sexual harassment is a punishable offence in the eyes of the law. Legally, it is defined as unwelcome sexually determined behaviour that could constitute physical contact and advances, sexual remarks, demand or request for sexual favours, showing pornography and displaying any kind of act or conduct that causes physical and/or emotional discomfort to the victim.
In order to be able to take the right action against sexual harassment, here are eight things that every employed professional must know:
1. Company's Policy and Definition as well as Laws on Sexual Harassment
Usually, every company has a policy and definition of sexual harassment in its employee handbook. You must read it thoroughly to be able to understand your rights and the company’s stand on it. Moreover, you should also know about the legal help you can seek regarding this.
In India, it is governed by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act 2013. There is also the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 354 under which the offender may be sent to prison for three years. In cases of rape, the offender is liable to get life imprisonment under IPC Section 376.
2. Follow the Formal Complaint Procedure in the Company
In case you become a victim of sexual harassment, it is always advisable to follow the exact procedure laid down by the company. This will ensure that you do not bypass any protocol or authority. It will also show that you are determined to pursue this matter in the right manner.
3. Hire an Attorney to Advise You
Sexual harassment laws and jargons can be complicated to understand for a layman. You should consider seeking professional help from an attorney to help you comb through the nitty-gritty of the matter. An attorney will also send or respond to legal notices on your behalf and represent you in the court of law.
4. Take a Trusted Colleague and Family into Confidence
As embarrassing you may feel to talk about this issue to anyone, it is important that you confide about it to a reliable colleague and your family. They will not only provide you with emotional support but also stand by your side when you need to visit the police station or court of law, proving to others that you are not alone in this battle.
5. Be Prepared for Detailed Investigation
Sexual harassment allegation by an employee is a big dent in the company’s reputation. The management will expect you to go through internal investigation multiple times. They might also put pressure on you to withdraw the case or find loopholes in your complaint. Also, once you file an official legal complaint, the police will also subject you to various types of investigations. You need to be mentally and physically prepared for the drill.
6. Don't Consider Quitting the Company
It is not easy to continue working in the office where you have been subjected to sexual harassment. The environment turns hostile, and you may feel people’s eyes prying on you, even though no fault of yours. It is understandable that you want to handover your resignation, but this will only further complicate the matters. In fact, when you are no longer an employee, the company may not co-operate with you, and it would also become difficult to file a lawsuit.
7. Document Every Communication Regarding Sexual Harassment Complaint
The sexual harassment case will require you to give statements and fill documents from time to time. Stand firm and consistent on your statement and keep a written record of everything in the chronological order as it happened. Also, keep the copies of every document for your reference.
8. Do not Hesitate to Escalate the Matter to Government Authorities and NGOs
In all probability, the company will try to suppress the allegations and make sure it doesn’t go public. However, if you are not satisfied with the company or police proceedings, then you can consider reaching out to government authorities such as Ministry of Women and Child Development, National Commission for Women or State Women Commissions or women’s rights NGOs/advocates for support and expedite the resolution.
Workplace sexual harassment is a serious matter, and it takes a lot of courage to speak about it. The above-mentioned steps should guide you appropriately.