In the event of ambiguity over the new law, the Internal Complaints Committee of companies should fall back on Visakha guidelines

The recently-passed Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 aims to address the issue of gender equality and is not just limited to instances of sexual harassment, speakers at a day-long workshop held here on Thursday, said. The workshop was held by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) – Indian Women Network (IWN) to sensitise its members about the provisions of the Act.

Sexual harassment is a part of the greater aspect of gender discrimination and should hence be seen as a violation of women’s fundamental rights, said Purnima Kamble, partner at law firm Fox Mandal and Associates. The Act entrusts the responsibility of ensuring the safety of women staff to the employers, but it should be viewed in a larger perspective according to the Vishaka guidelines laid down by the apex court in 1997, she said.

“Following the passage of the Act, many organisations have established Internal Complaints Committees (ICC) to investigate complaints regarding sexual harassment by women employees. But not many ICC members know the power vested with these committees,” Ms. Kamble observed.

ICC has powers that can make or break the career of a person and hence, before filing their findings and recommendations, the members should know the background in which the Act was passed as these findings can be reviewed by a court of law, she cautioned.

“The Act still has some grey areas and it is the Vishaka guidelines which the ICC members should fall back to resolve these issues,” she explained.

To ensure that the provisions of the Act are followed in spirit, the organisations should conduct periodic counselling sessions to all their employees, Convenor of IWN and Deputy Director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Lakshmi Lingam said.

“Women employees should be encouraged to approach the ICC as soon as they find wrong intentions among male colleagues and targeted counselling should also be given to male employees to sensitise them about the problems faced by women employees,” she observed.

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