It has been recently reported by Deccan Chronicle, in its Article titled ‘Employees can file sexual harassment complaints online: Govt.’ dated ‘27th October, 2016’ that several women employees wrote to the Women and Child Development (“WCD”) ministry about delay in getting their complaints about sexual harassment resolved (even though the Sexual Harassment of Women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Act”) clearly provides that a complaint of sexual harassment must be inquired into and concluded within 3 months).
As a result, the WCD ministry has decided that women employees of the Central government will soon be able to file sexual harassment complaints online. It appears that the government is making this move in light of Section 9 of the Act which states that ‘any aggrieved woman may make, in writing, a complaint of sexual harassment at workplace to the Internal Committee…’
It is yet to be seen how the complaints shall be filed online in order to maintain confidentiality because some of the most important provisions of the Act, i.e. Section 16 and 17, clearly state that ‘the contents of the complaint made under section 9, the identity and addresses of the aggrieved woman, respondent and witnesses… shall not be published, communicated or made known to the public, press and media in any manner.’
The Article also reported that an inter-ministerial committee headed by a senior WCD official will be constituted to review the status of the complaints and that the forum will also ensure that all Internal Complaints Committee (“ICC”) heads are imparted training on how to resolve such complaints. It further reported that it has been decided that DoPT (Department of Personnel & Training) will issue instructions to ensure that training programmes for all services include a module on the Act to sensitise the government staff.
The above decision seems to be coming from section 23 and Rule 13 (b) of the Act which provides that the appropriate Government shall monitor the implementation of the Act and carry out orientation programmes and seminars for the Members of the Internal Committee respectively.
An important development appears to be that the WCD ministry will issue guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment complaints. These will include a monthly as well as an annual report, to be prepared by the Internal Complaints Committee of each ministry, on the status of complaints received. It may be noted that currently Section 21 of the Act provides that an ICC must prepare an annual report and submit the same to the employer and the District Officer. There may be chances that this provision of the Act is amended later on to reflect the decision of the WCD ministry.
While the Act does not have a separate provision to deal with victimization of complainants, it takes care of such incidents by provisions such as Section 3. The WCD ministry, as reported, is now taking a significant, and rather important step, to curb victimization of complaints. It has been reported that the cadre controlling authority of a victim will be required to monitor her progress for 5 years, in order to ensure that she is not further tormented for complaining against a colleague.
Very importantly, it has also been reported that ‘a similar exercise for the private sector is also on the anvil.’