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India has unfortunately been a breeding ground for centuries old patriarchy and sexist beliefs. New legislations have been showing signs of change and simultaneously different forms of protests, demonstrations, petitions and social media awareness campaigns are also trying to change the way we look at women. Office spaces should also respect the concept of safe-spaces and respect women’s privacy and right to work without unwanted sexual advances. To combat this horrific practice, the Indian Constitution included Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which addresses sexual harassment of women in the context and course of employment and provides civil remedies. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, on the other hand, treats the sexual harassment of a woman by a man as a punishable offence.
Start-ups and CEOs need to be aware of what constitutes sexual harassment at workplaces and provide a safe, positive growth space for employees. With shocking stories of sexual harassment in offices of giant business including EMAHO magazine, Tehelka, GreenPeace and so many more, here’s what everyone should know about the act:
- Any workplace with more than 10 employees need to implement it
- Employers who fail to comply will be punished with a fine of up to 50,000 rupees and attract criminal penalties as well
- The act covers all women, irrespective of her age or employment status, whether in the organized or unorganized sectors, public or private and covers clients, customers and domestic workers as well.
- Even non-traditional workplaces which involve tele-commuting are covered under this law
- The Committee is required to complete the inquiry within a time period of 90 days
- The inquiry process under the Act should be confidential and the Act lays down a penalty of Rs 5000 on the person who has breached confidentiality.
As an employer, understandably, sexual harassment occurring within the confines or jurisdiction of your start-up/business is shameful and degrading. It is your legal and moral responsibility to provide safe working spaces. Here’s how you can encourage positive safe spaces and prevent sexual harassment:
Adopting a Sexual Harassment Policy:
A strong and comprehensive sexual harassment policy must be mandatorily included in your contract and verbally read as well as present in writing to every employee, regardless of their designation. This not only validates legal rights in case someone violates the rules, but also brings awareness if someone wants to deliberately falter.
No matter how big or small your organization is, encourage communications between employees and employers. Reviewing the policy on a regular basis helps send a reminder to everyone and also includes updated newer definitions and methods to counter/prevent dangerous behaviors. Make sure you never trivialize, joke or ignore complains so that employers feel confident to share their complains with you.
Have an objective complains committee
Ideally, the committee assigned to handle sexual harassment complains should include empathetic people with at least 50% women members. This isn’t a court procedure, but a very high probability should work rather than “guilty without reasonable doubt” methodology. Understand to provide safe, private spaces for complains to be shared because complains are risking their personal and professional lives to share it with you.
Have some time out every once in a while to discuss and train over what constitutes as sexual harassment and what penalties it can attract. Such exercises can serve as a reminder to everyone post the initial contract of the company’s harassment policy. It also encourages employees to feel more safe with forwarding their complains.
What are the various steps you and your start-up have pursued to provide safe spaces for women without unwanted sexual advances? Let us know in the comments on our official Facebook page Entrepreneur India