Committees cannot inquire into complaints

Punjab & Haryana High Court states that Internal Committees or Local Committees cannot inquire into complaints barred by limitation

In the case of Vivek Tyagi vs. State of Haryana and Ors., Punjab & Haryana High Court on March 22, 2021 held that an Internal Committee or Local Committee cannot inquire into a complaint if it has been filed after the period of limitation under POSH Law.

Facts of the case arethat the Respondent (β€œAggrieved”) filed a complaint with the Local Committee (β€œLC”) on 18.09.2019 alleging sexual harassment by certain officers of the Company. As per the complaint, the last incident of sexual harassment is alleged to have happened on 03.11.2018. However, after her resignation from the job on 16.01.2019, her full and final settlement took place on 11.06.2019 and a communication was sent to her on 12.06.2019. 12.06.2019 has been taken as the date of last incident and complaint been filed.

POSH Law grants three months’ time to the aggrieved woman to file a complaint from the date of incident. In case of series of such incidents, the complaint can be filed within a period of three months from the date of the last incident. Second proviso to Section 9 enables the Internal Complaints Committee or the Local Committee, to extend the time limit for another period not exceeding three months from the date of expiry of 3 months of the date of incident or in case of series of incidents, the date when the last incident took place.

Thus, the outer limit for extending the time to file a complaint is three months after the elapse of the original period of three months. In other words, the maximum period for lodging a complaint under the Act is six months from the date of incident and in case of series of incident from the date of the last incident. Thereafter, the Internal Complaints Committee or the Local Committee is barred from entertaining the complaint under the Act.

Contentions:

Company contended that the complaint was filed after the limitation period and was entertained by LC even after the maximum extended period granted by law had elapsed. Thus, Local Committee had, no jurisdiction to entertain the complaint being barred by limitation. It was also contended that the complaint as per Section 9 should have been lodged with the Internal Committee which is in place.

Respondent contended that she was thrown out of job on 16.01.2019 and still her accounts were not settled for a considerable period. The accounts were ultimately settled on 11.06.2019, and the tone and tenor of communication (Dated 12.06.2019) of the full and final settlement itself reflects that the complainant was being pressurized. Hence the complaint falls within the limitation period prescribed (if 12.06.2019 is considered as the date of last incident).

Court observed that:

  • The last incident was alleged to have taken place on 03.11.2018. The respondent remained in job till 16.01.2019. She did not file any complaint during that period to the Committee. On 16.01.2019, she resigned from the company. Even thereafter, she did not file any complaint to the committee.
  • The communication dated 12.06.2019 was with respect to the full and final settlement. From the reading of the communication dated 12.06.2019, it was not possible to conclude that it could be treated as an act of sexual harassment. No doubt, she has pleaded in the written statement that she was in touch with the Management and some sort of inquiry was being held, however, that would not result in extending the period of limitation.
  • The employer had only intimated her that there was an internal investigation and certain discrepancies including financial irregularities have been found against her.

Court held that β€œSuch communication as noticed above, does not fall within the four corners of sexual harassment, which can give fresh cause of action to the respondent to extend the limitation period to file a complaint.” It decided to not look at any other aspects of the petitions.

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