Sexual Harrassment at Workplace


Women are one of our society’s most vulnerable groups. Since the dawn of time, women have been subjected to prejudice in every aspect of life. Even if the situation has much improved, there are still certain things that need to be altered. One of these is the harassment of women on the job.

Gender equality is a core human right, and the Indian Constitution guarantees all citizens equality of position and opportunity. 1 Sexual harassment violates a woman’s constitutional right to equality (Articles 14 and 15).Sexual harassment in the workplace creates an unsafe and hostile work environment, thereby discouraging women’s employment and hindering their social and economic development.

India’s first legislation specifically addressing the issue of workplace sexual harassment was enacted in 2013. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act”) was made effective from December 09, 2013 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, The Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act has been enacted with the objective of preventing and protecting women against sexual harassment at workplace and for the effective redressal of complaints of sexual harassment. The statute seeks to fill the legislative void on the subject and provide every woman, irrespective of her age or employment status, a safe and secure working environment free from all forms of harassment.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 criminalised sexual harassment, stalking, and voyeurism in 2013.


The problem of sexual harassment of women is not a new phenomena; it has been a part of every woman’s life for a long time, demonstrating the social dominance of men. Sexual harassment is one of the challenges that discourages women from participating actively in economic and social growth. It is a hard and hostile experience a worker can endure, and it is gaining awareness in the workplace, in institutions, and at home. Society reports that 70% of women have experienced sexual harassment.

Since the early 1980s, Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (SHW) has been one of the primary concerns of the women’s movement in India. In the 1980s, the Forum Against Oppression of Women (Mumbai) engaged in militant action against the sexual harassment of nurses in public and private hospitals by patients and their male relatives, ward-boys, and other hospital staff; of air-hostesses by their colleagues and passengers; and of teachers by their colleagues.But women’s rights activists weren’t deterred. Working women began systematically fighting SHW.

Baailancho Saad (‘Women’s Voice’) in Goa rallied public opinion against the chief minister, who allegedly harassed his secretary, until he resigned. In 1990, the same organisation filed a public interest lawsuit to change the definition of rape to ‘penile penetration into the vagina’ Women’ Groups voiced concern about sexually violent behaviour SHW-related crimes.

Before 1997, women experiencing SHW had to file a complaint under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with ‘criminal assault on women to outrage women’s modesty,’ and Section 509, which punishes a ‘word, gesture, or act intended to offend a woman’s modesty.The Supreme Court issued a major ruling in the Vishakha case in 1997, outlining how businesses should handle sexual harassment accusations. The court ordered these recommendations until legislation may be passed.

Mumbai women’s groups and union-affiliated women lawyers drafted the billMajlis-style. Including the unorganised sector and labour law provisions was a priority when writing the draught. To be Sexual Harassment Of Women At The2004 Workplace (Prevention and Redress) Act.

After 10 years, the Bill returned to the Lok Sabha in 2010 with minor amendments. The new Bill defined “sexual harassment” and established a redress process through a “internal Complaints Committee” or “Local Complaints Committee” at the district level. The law passed in 2013. Prior to the passage of the new law in 2013, the issue of sexual harassment was controlled by the 1997 Vishaka case guidelines. The primary purpose of the Act was to implement the rules and protect women’s safety on the job.


Bhanwari Devi was gang-raped on 22 September 1992 by a bunch of 5men and the reason behind the same was awful that during her employment she was helping a young girl who was forced to marry at a young age by her parents. She carried out a rally for the same but she failed to stop the marriagesince some powerful political and influential people were involved in this case. One day, a group of 5 men gang raped her when she was working along with her husband in their field. A criminal case was filed for this incident of rape against those 5 men. However, the police filed the complaint after 52 long hours since the police officials didn’t take it seriously. The District and Session Court dismissed the case and all the 5 accused were acquitted.

Which brings the question that why police didn’t take her complaint seriously and why the court acquitted those 5 men?

These questions and judgment of the District and Session Court made women of the country aware of their rights. The women who used to be silent in earlier times as they were told to remain silent all the time started a series of rallies and protests. Though these rallies and protests just included various women safety organisations but this time general public was also a part of these protests. Since women started realising that they are also a human being and women also started working in that era to fulfil their family needs are also need to be protected from the sexual harassment during the employment and the incident that happened with Bhanwari Devi was just an eye opener for all of them. All these rallies and protests by the women of our society did not stop even after getting lathi charged by the police since the women of our society just wanted justice in the case of Bhanwari Devi which led the State Government appeal against the judgment. According to the judgment of the Rajasthan High Court, those 5 men were convicted of assault but the bitter truth is that the punishment of those 5 men was much lesser than the crime of rape in which 2 accused were already dead till that time as this hearing was done after 15 years of the incident, by 2007. This incident led to Vishaka Guidelines for the safety of the women at the workplace.


Guidelines and standards established by the Supreme Court in Vishaka and others. v. State of Rajasthan which was 1997 case wasfor the prevention of sexual harassment of women at a workplace.It is important and expedient for employers in the workplace as well as other responsible individuals or institutions to respect certain principles. It is the responsibility of the employer or other responsible parties in workplaces and other institutions to prevent or deter the commission of acts of sexual harassment and to establish procedures for the resolution, settlement, and prosecution of such acts by taking all necessary efforts.

What wasthe need for Vishaka Guidelines?

After the incident of Bhanwari Devi, the case was brought to the attention of Supreme Court of India. As we all know that Bhanwari Devi didn’t get justice for what happened with her. Therefore, Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment in the case of Vishaka Vs. State of Rajasthan. The Supreme Court laid down guidelines which had to be established in dealing with the complaints about sexual harassment at the workplace.

What is Sexual Harassment?

The definition of Sexual Harassment is not just a normal harassment but it includes a sexually determined behaviour which is very unwelcoming even if it is directly or by implication like any physical contact and advances, any demand or request for sexual favours, any sexually colored remarks, showing pornography and any other unwelcoming physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

Preventive Steps

Everyone in charge of a workplace, whether it’s in the public or private sector, should do what they need to do to stop sexual harassment. Without taking away from the general nature of this duty, they should do the following :-

a.The explicit prohibition of sexual harassment as outlined above in the workplace should be communicated, published, and widely disseminated.

b. The norms of government and public sector organisations relating to behaviour and discipline should ban sexual harassment and establish adequate punishments for those who violate these standards.

c. Regarding private employers, actions should be taken to integrate the aforementioned prohibitions in the industrial employment (standing orders) legislation of 1946’s standing orders.

D. Appropriate work circumstances should be given in terms of work, leisure, health, and cleanliness to ensure that women are not subjected to hostile work environments, and no employee woman should have reasonable grounds to believe she is disadvantaged due to her employment. 

Criminal Proceedings

Where such conduct constitutes a specific crime under the IPC or under any other statute.   In compliance with the law, the employer must initiate necessary action by filing a complaint with the proper authority. Specifically, it should guarantee that victims or witnesses are neither abused or harassed discriminated against while handling sexual harassment accusations.

Disciplinary Action

When such conduct constitutes misconduct in the workplace as defined by the applicable service rules, the employer must take disciplinary action in line with those rules.

Complaint Mechanism

A suitable complaint system should be established in the employer’s organisation for the resolution of the victim’s complaint, regardless of whether the conduct in question amounts to a criminal offence or a violation of the service standards. Such a complaint procedure should guarantee that complaints are handled promptly.

Internal Complaints Committee

The above-mentioned complaint procedure should provide a complaints committee, special counsellor, or other support service, including confidentiality. Women should make up at least half of the complaints committee. To minimise undue pressure or influence from upper levels, the complaints committee should include an NGO or other entity familiar with sexual harassment. The complaint committee shall submit annual complaints and actions to the relevant government department. Employers and responsible parties will report compliance with the rules, including complaints committee reports, to the government agency.

Worker’s Initiative

Employees should be permitted to report sexual harassment concerns at workers’ meetings and other suitable forums, and sexual harassment should be a topic of discussion in employer-employee meetings.


In this case, the rights of female employees should be made clear by putting the guidelines (and any laws that are passed on the subject) in a prominent place and letting people know about them in the right way.

Third Party Harassment

When sexual harassment happens due to the actions or omissions of a third party or outsider, the employer and person in authority will take all necessary and reasonable efforts to provide support and preventative measures for the victim. The central and state governments are asked to consider implementing appropriate measures, including legislation, to guarantee that the criteria outlined in this directive are likewise followed by private sector employers. These recommendations will not infringe upon any rights guaranteed by the 1993 Protection of Human Rights Act.


This act was passed on 22nd April, 2013 and this act was basically a relief for all the women out there who wanted to work and achieve something in their lives. This act acknowledged that sexual harassment at workplace violates women rights which comes under right to equality of articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India and it also includes article 21 of the Constitution for the women to live with dignity and for their right to practice any profession or to carry any occupation or business. Now in this Act, in relation to women,Section 2 (a) defines aggrieved woman, Section 2(e) defines domestic worker, Section 2(f) and (g) defines employee and employer. The Most important section is:

Section 2(o) “workplace” includes- (i) any department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office, branch or unit which is established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government or the local authority or a Government company or a corporation or a co-operative society; (ii) any private sector organisation or a private venture, undertaking, enterprise, institution, establishment, society, trust, non-governmental organisation, unit or service provider carrying on commercial, professional, vocational, educational, entertainmental, industrial, health services or financial activities including production, supply, sale, distribution or service; (iii) hospitals or nursing homes; (iv) any sports institute, stadium, sports complex or competition or games venue, whether residential or not used for training, sports or other activities relating thereto; (v) any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment including transportation by the employer for undertaking such journey; (vi) a dwelling place or a house;

This Act also implemented all the Vishaka Guidelines and due to this, it is now mandatory for all the Offices, Companies, Workplaces to make a POSH Committee according to this particular Act.


  1. Medha Kotwal Lele vs. Union of India

After the Vishaka Guidelines, the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill 2010 was passed by Lok Sabha in 2012 but not by Rajya Sabha. It was pending and was not if force. Therefore, Medha Kotwal Lele, who was a coordinator of Aalochana, a centre for documentation and research on women and other women’s rights groups argued that although the Vishaka Guidelines were there but those were not implemented effectively in India and women were suffering at workplaces who were getting insulted on their dignity by the other people at their workplace.

Therefore, the Court ordered that Vishaka Guidelines should not just remain symbolic and it should be implemented till the enactment of the Bill.

  • Sri Subrata Kumar Choudhury Vs State Bank of India & Ors.

This was an appeal case which was Sri Subrata Kumar Choudhary against Ms. Amrita Mukherjee. Both the parties worked at the same workplace where according to Ms. Mukherjee, the petitioner made some derogatory remarks that “She is available with Sindur of Rs. 2” and “She is a Prostitute”. The Respondent was unable to produce any witness for the same neither she remembered the date of the incident. According to the Calcutta High Court, there was an enquiry over the allegations made against the petitioner and it had been ended in his favour and the appeal was allowed.


After the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 most of the companies have taken steps to prevent the sexual harassment cases at their offices by taking preventive steps and appointing Internal Committees to protect their employees yet we all know that this world is full of different people. Therefore, according to some records, in 2019, Delhi had reported 485 cases of sexual harassment and 21 cases of sexual harassment at workplace. However, in 2020, Delhi had reported 12 cases of sexual harassment at workplace.

According to the reports, Nifty Companies received 455 complaints of Sexual Harassment at Workplace in the Financial year 2021 i.e. from 1st April 2020 to 31st March 2021 but if we make a comparison of these cases with the previous years then it is less in number. Since the cases of Sexual Harassment at Workplace received among 50 companies are as follows:

  1. 506 cases in Financial Year 2016
  2. 572 cases in Financial Year 2017
  3. 624 cases in Financial Year 2018
  4. 729 cases in Financial Year 2019
  5. 737 cases in Financial Year 2020
  6. 455 cases in Financial Year 2021

Since these reports are just of Nifty Companies, we don’t even know that if we include each and every area of India then what will be the number of cases per year and there will be those women also who must be facing this harassment at their workplace yet they must be so scared that they are not even willing to make any complaint. Though only some cases reaches to court since all the companies and employers tries to settle all these disputes at a low level only just to save their image and reputation. Still we don’t know the truth behind every story.


India is fast achieving its development objectives, and an increasing number of women are entering the workforce. It is the responsibility of the state to provide for the well-being and respect of its citizens in order to prevent frustration, low self-esteem, insecurity, and emotional disturbance, which, in turn, could affect business efficacy, resulting in production loss and reputation damage for the organisation or employer. In actuality, the acknowledgement of the right to protection from sexual harassment is an integral part of the protection of women’s human rights. It is also a step toward granting women autonomy, opportunity equality, and the freedom to work with dignity. Diverse international human rights organisations have prioritised the promotion and protection of women’s rights throughout the past 50 years.The United Nations has accepted that women’s rights and human rights are synonymous. In the Beijing Declaration, this was reaffirmed. The majority of worldwide women’s human rights movements have spoken out against violence and abuse against women in general. In 1979, the General Assembly of the United Nations enacted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Political rights, marriage, and family and employment were determined to be areas where prejudice was pervasive. The agreement emphasised that discrimination and attacks on the dignity of women contradicted the principle of equal rights.

In any civilised society, it is the fundamental right of people to be able to lead their lives with dignity, free from mental or physical torture. To ensure this, transgressors must pay for their unsolicited sexual advances. At the same time organisations such as Men Against Violence and Abuse, that conduct gender-sensitisation programmes and self defence classes to combat sexual harassment at the workplace, must been courage. To effectively prevent SHW we need both a top-down initiative by the state and employers and civil society initiatives from citizens’ groups, women’s organisations and trade unions.

By : Adv. Bhavnish Yadav

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