The Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Act”), aims to protect women from sexual harassment at the workplace and gives legislative backing to the Vishakha guidelines conceptualised by the Apex Court in the case of Vishakha & ors. v. State of Rajasthan & ors.. The Act also requires all employers with 10 or more employees to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (“ICC”) to receive and investigate complaints of sexual harassment.
Have you ever considered a woman employee's options in the event a male employee of a different department of the Government of India sexually harasses her? Will the Act and the ICC be able to protect her?
The Act ensures that a woman’s right to equality, life, and liberty is not compromised or violated and a woman is provided with a safe, enabling, and friendly environment at work, insulated from any act of sexual harassment, of any form. The Act clarifies that there must be inclusive growth, social and economic empowerment of women. Women must be treated with due respect, decency and dignity at the workplace and there must be equality in employment. It is pertinent to ensure that any interpretation of the Act must not compromise or downplay the implementation of any of these objectives.
The Delhi Court recently in the case of Dr Sohail Malik v. Union of India & Anr answered certain questions regarding the limits of enforcement of the Act. The Hon’ble Court observed that there is absolutely nothing in the Act, which limits its scope only to cases where a woman employee is sexually harassed by another employee working in her own office, and accepts its application where the delinquent employee is employed elsewhere. The Act does not restrict its application only to cases where the respondent i.e., the officer against whom sexual harassment is being alleged, is the employee of the department where the complainant is working. An interpretation contrary to this would, would strike at the very root of the Act, and its ethos and philosophy.
Therefore, it can be rightly concluded that the Act can be read as to protect a woman working in one department of the Government from harassment by any officer or employee of another department. The Act cannot limit the scope of it to employees only working in the same department. Any exception which violates the implementation of the initial objectives of the Act lacks standing and goes against the constitutional imperative of equalising the sexes and cannot be entertained.