The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“the Act”) was notified on 9th December, 2013. However, even after more than a year of coming into force, it appears from surveys and comments from the Ministry of Women and Child Development in various newspaper reports, that many organizations have still not constituted an internal complaints committee (“ICC”) in their organization, in compliance with the Act (even though the fact is that organizations should have constituted a committee for tackling sexual harassment way back in 1997 when the Vishaka judgment was passed, instead of waiting for the Act to come in force). According to the Act, if an employer fails to constitute an ICC within his organization, such employer can be punished with fine of Rs. 50,000. In case of subsequent conviction for failing to constitute ICC, penalty can be doubled and in certain cases the Act also provides that license of such employer to do business may be cancelled.
Even though the penalty (for first offense) provided for under the Act may seem to be minor and trivial for some organizations, organizations must be mindful of the fact that if a matter of sexual harassment reaches court and the court finds that ICC was not even constituted as per the Act, apart from imposing penalty as per the Act, the court has discretion to order other amount from employers as damages as well.
One such case (Ms.G vs. Isg Novasoft Technologies) has been reported by the Economic Times on 11th April, 2015 where the Madras High Court directed the company to pay Rs 1.68 crore as damages for sexual harassment to an aggrieved woman. It reported that the court said in its order that if the company had set up a committee to inquire into allegations of sexual harassment, the litigation may have been avoided.
Link to the case law: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/29530984/
Click here to view the Article
– Adv. Shivangi Prasad – Corporate Lawyer, External Member & Trainer, Head – Legal & Compliance, Partner POSH at Work