Sexual Harassment: Harassment for Man and Woman

As the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill (SHWB) is expected to be made as a law soon since it is passed in loksabha amidst lot of chaos due to coal-gate scam issue without any debate, I had to sit down with my inquisitive mind to see how far it is going to do any good.

Before we go into analysis, let’s try to understand what is defined as sexual harassment globally, and how other countries are geared up for it. Definition from Wikipedia: “Sexual harassment is intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.[1] In most modern legal contexts sexual harassment is illegal. As defined by EEOC, “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex.” Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”

It further adds: “Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.”

Most of the countries in the world having this provision, have it as gender neutral, including UK, USA, Australia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark even Pakistan except India.

Some of the key highlights of the bill:

  1. First of all, this can only be used by a woman. So it is assumed that in case your female colleague / boss is asking you for sexual pleasure and you dare to say no and face retaliation, you can not be a victim of sexual harassment at workplace, as you are male.
  2. Once a complain is lodged, the complainant either will enjoy paid leave or be transferred to another location, as per her choice. In case the complain is found out to be a false and fabricated one, the investigating committee may take some action as it might feel fit or may not. In either of the situation, no further report / details would be published. It is even kept out of the ambit of RTI. So easy enjoyment for upto 3 months of paid leave.
  3. It is possible for both the parties to reach out to an amicable mutual solution through financial compensation, in that case, the investigation will be stopped and no further report / details would be published. It is even kept out of the ambit of RTI.
  4. In case the complain is found out to be true, then there are punishments, which may range from 25% of accused salary to termination.

What are the problems with this bill? If this bill is passed and made into a law, this might cause a lot of problems, below is an indicative but not exhaustive list:

  • It would be easily used / misused by unscrupulous women employees to seek unjustified benefits. They would demand leave, promotion, hike, job role anything and everything, and if their demand(s) is / are not met, will simply use this provision to take revenge.
  • It would destroy the harmony and balance of a workplace. Men would not trust / fear communicating with female colleagues.
  • Slowly the organizations will start facing the heat of the imbalance, and it would become difficult for them to maintain and run their business in a decent work environment.
  • Already men are cornered in the society thanks to so many pro-women laws and their rampant misuse, since there is no mechanism to stop their misuse, this law will add fuel to that.
  • Till now, men were subjected to injustice in society, in marriage now they would be in their workplace too.

Problems and solutions of this bill:

IMHO, there are 3 major problems associated with the present version of the bill:

  1. Most important problem is that complaint can be lodged by only women. The word women should be changed to person to make it gender neutral.
  2. Next in case the complaint is found out to be false, the complainant may be punished, as per the bill. The word “may” should be changed to “shall” so that misuse can be prevented.
  3. At the end of the investigation, the conclusion / final report / other details are not to be published, and there are punishments in case it gets published. It is kept out from the ambit of RTI also. It should be changed so that the final report / conclusion / other details could be obtained by anyone, and it must come under the ambit of RTI. This would further prevent the misuse.

Once this is drafted and implemented in a gender neutral manner, and proper awareness is created for this, this bill should come as a great help for those who are subjected to harassment at workplace.

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