harassment over digital platform

High Court of Rajasthan on harassment over digital platform

In the matter of Sanjeev Mishra v. Disciplinary Authority and General Manager, Bank Of Baroda and ors, The High Court of Rajasthan on 11th January, 2021, held that even if two employees are located in different locations and that harassment happens beyond the official working hours, it would be considered as sexual harassment at the workplace.

The facts in the present case are that Sanjeev Mishra (“Petitioner”), who was employed as the Chief Manager of Bank of Baroda, Jaipur Branch (“Bank”) had allegedly sent obscene and overt messages to a female employee (“Complainant”) of the Bank. In the past, the Complainant and the Petitioner were posted in the same branch. However, the Complainant was transferred to a different branch in a different State and she was situated in a different State when the alleged obscene messages were sent to her by the Petitioner.

The Complainant filed a complaint of sexual harassment against the Petitioner and as per the service rules applicable to the Bank, a chargesheet was filed against the Petitioner by the Disciplinary Authority and General Manager, Bank of Baroda. The Petitioner filed a Petition before the Supreme Court for quashing and setting aside the chargesheet filed against him.

The Petitioner challenged the Disciplinary Authority and General Manager’s chargesheet claiming that there was no jurisdiction to conduct the inquiry against him on two grounds:

  • Geographical Location – The petitioner raised objection that the committee doesn’t have jurisdiction in this case because the petitioner is working in a different State while the Complainant who has lodged a complaint for sexual harassment is in another State.
  • Working hours – The Petitioner alleged that the said messages were sent by him after the office hours, which does not cover the employment timings and thus the messages were sent after working hours.

Thus, the Petitioner alleged, that the charge sheet had been wrongly issued in his case.

The court held that:

  1. As regards the geographical location, the Court held that, “In a digital platform, workplace for employees working in one particular organsiation (in this case a Bank) and who have earlier worked in the same Branch and later on shifted to different branches which may be situated in different States will be treated as one single workplace. Thus, in the current case the act of harassment will come under the purview of a common workplace regardless of the location.”
  2. As regards the fact that the messages were sent outside working hours, the Court held that, “In the situation that the obscene messages were sent after the working hours of the bank, the court observed that the petitioner holds a post of Chief Manager. Working hours for such senior level posts cannot be constrained between 10:30 Am to 4:30 Pm. Thus, messages sent after working hours will automatically come under the provisions of misconduct under Regulations of 1976 (the Service Rules that were applicable to the Respondent).”

Essentially, the Court held that in a digital workplace setting, it would be impossible to say that two people were not working out of the same workplace merely because they were situated in two separate geographical locations. Even if the messages were sent late at night, considering the fact that the Petitioner’s working hours could not be constrained in the traditional 10.30 am to 4.30 pm bracket, it would not be fair to say that the incident of sexual harassment occurred outside the workplace because it was sent later in the day. The Petitioner’s contention that the incident happened outside of the ambit of the workplace since the Complainant was situated in a different State and it was done late at night were rejected by the Court. 

Thus, the Court held that the said Petition was without any basis and was rejected.

– Adv. Vatsal Chorera, Legal & Compliance – POSHequili

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