The government on Tuesday introduced a bill aimed at preventing sexual harassment of women at workplace in various forms, including implied or overt promise of preferential treatment, or threat or interference in her work through intimidation.
The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010, tabled in the Lok Sabha, provides for mandatory setting up of an internal committee by a company or any other institute to probe a written complaint by an aggrieved person or settle the matter through conciliation.
Introducing the bill, Minister of State for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath said the objective was to enact a comprehensive legislation to provide safe, secure and enabling environment, free from all forms of sexual harassment to every woman, irrespective of her age or employment status (other than domestic workers). It fixes the responsibility on the employer as well as the District Magistrate or Additional District Magistrate or the Collector or Deputy Collector of every district in the State as a District Officer and lays down a statutory redressal mechanism.
The proposed legislation makes it incumbent on the employer to order probe into any complaint and provides for a fine of Rs. 50,000 in case an internal inquiry is not set up by the employer or attempt is made to contravene the provisions of the new law.
However, in the case of false or malicious complaint, the bill provides for action against the complainant in accordance with service rules and in any other manner in case no service rules exist.
The “malicious intent or falsehood” on part of the complainant shall be established after an inquiry in accordance with the procedure prescribed before any action is recommended, says the bill. But mere inability to substantiate a complaint or provide adequate proof need not attract action against the complainant, it says.
The bill has identified actions that would come under its purview as “implied or overt promise of preferential treatment in her [any woman's] employment; or implied or overt threat of detrimental treatment in her employment; or implied or overt threat about her present or future employment status.”
Other cognisable actions are: “Conduct of any person which interferes with her work or creates an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her; or humiliating conduct constituting health and safety problems for her.”
The bill will apply to any department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office or unit which is established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate government, the local authority, a government company, or a corporation or a cooperative society.
It will also apply to private sector organisation, societies, trusts, educational institutions, non-governmental organisations, service providers of commercial, professional or entertainment activities. It will cover the ‘unorganised sector' where the number of such workers is less than 10.
“With more and more women joining the workforce, both in organised and unorganised sectors, ensuring an enabling working environment for women through legislation is felt imperative by the government,” the Minister said.