The brutal gang rape of a social worker in Rajasthan in 1997, brought to the attention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, “the absence of domestic law occupying the field, to formulate effective measures to check the evil of sexual harassment of working women at all work places.” This resulted in India finally enacting its law on Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH Law) against female employees at the workplace. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Sexual Harassment Act”) has been made effective on April 23, 2013. This is called Vishaka Guidelines after the Guidelines and norms laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Vishaka and Others Vs. State of Rajasthan and Others(JT 1997 (7) SC 384)
10 Key Salient Features of Vishaka Guidelines:
1. Awareness & Publication of Women Employees Rights: Organizations need to publish, notify and circulate ‘prohibition of sexual harassment policy’ at work place. This policy should be included in a company’s rules & regulations relating to conduct & discipline and provide for appropriate penalties against the offender.
2. Criminal Proceedings: Employer should initiate criminal proceedings with appropriate authority if a conduct of sexual harassment amounts to specific offence under the Indian Penal Code or any other law.
3. In-discrimination: Organizations need to ensure victims/ witnesses are not victimized or discriminated against while investigating sexual harassments. They should be given option to seek their own transfer or transfer of their perpetrator.
4. Disciplinary Action: Organizations should initiate appropriate actions where such conduct amounts to misconduct in employment as defined under company rules and regulations.
5. Investigating Committee: To investigate the complaint, a committee should be formed and headed by a woman. Half of its members should be women and to avoid duress, a third neutral party should be involved, either an NGO or any other body familiar with the issue of sexual harassment.
6. Confidentiality: The investigating committee formed should be self sufficient and be able to provide adequate support services such as special counselling as well as maintenance of confidentiality.
7. Forum to voice sexual offences: Organizations should allow and provide forums to enable employees to raise issues of sexual harassment and women should be allowed to discuss them positively in such forums without any fear.
8. Third Party Harassment: Where misconduct has occurred due to an act by a third party/ outsider than the organization/ person in charge will take all necessary and reasonable steps to extend support and to assist the affected person in ensuring preventive action.
9. Preventive Steps: Organizations/ Persons in charge should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassments by expressing prohibition of sexual harassment, adding them in their rules and regulations and by providing for appropriate working environment thereby ensuring there is no hostile environment towards women at work.
10. Hygiene Factors: Provision for appropriate work, leisure, health and hygiene should be provided to women employees so that they do not have ground to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.