SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN VIRTUAL WORLD

Oct. 10, 2020, 12:44 p.m.   Dheerja  
Pens of Law students   Public Policy    


Profile of the Author: Aditi Dhamdhere is pursuing B.A.LL.B. (Hons.) from Modern Law College, Pune University.

INTRODUCTION

The present time of social distancing has inadvertently started a worldwide trial of mass distant working. This rebuilt working approach may have changed the working atmosphere of the representatives yet the difficulties have been equivalent. One of the significant difficulties is Sexual Harassment in the workplace, which remains an issue for working women. According to a joint overview by Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFENET) and Never Okay Project, 86 out of 315 [1] respondents confirmed that they were sexually harassed while working from home. These figures exemplify the significance of protecting women from such maltreatment in any event including virtual working. Currently, the inappropriate behavior in the work environment is governed by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 ('POSH Act').

DEFINITION

Sexual Harassment has been defined under Section 2(n) [2] and sub-clauses (ii), (iii), (iv), and (v). The sub-clauses (ii), (iii), (iv), and (v) regulate unwanted demonstrations or conduct that happens while working, for instance, sexual favors, shaded comments, some other unwanted physical, verbal, or non-verbal lead of sexual nature.

Section 3 of the Act [3] provides that any of the following circumstances amount to sexual harassment, that is suggested or unequivocal guarantee of a particular treatment in business, danger about the present or future work status, obstruction in work.

WHETHER THE ACT COVERS THE 'WORK FROM HOME' SCENARIO

The POSH Act, 2013 recognizes work from home.

Section 2(o) of the Act defines 'Workplace' that includes 'a dwelling place or a house'. The unprecedented circumstance of Coronavirus Pandemic has opened the avenue for application of the literal rule of interpretation that results in including work from home in the definition of working place under Section 2(o)(vi). Correspondingly, inappropriate behavior happening through online media while working from home comes under the ambit of the POSH Act, 2013. [4] The said definition is wide and goes beyond the four walls of office premises.

Any correspondence, message, video, audio and so on which is explicitly questionable and shady is sent through any electronic methods is an inappropriate behavior under the POSH Act, 2013. In the given circumstances of Covid-19 where women are working from home, they are still at working place and all the electronic mediums utilized for discharging the work obligations are a part of the working place, for example, computer, cell phone, video/audio calls, and so on. While working from home, if any woman gets any unwanted, explicitly hued message, text, call, video, and so forth, will be under the purview of the POSH Act, 2013. The woman has the same rights while working from home as she was conferred by the act while she was working at the office premises. This can be asserted with the help of the following cases.

In the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, [5] it was held that that sexual harassment of working women is a punishable offence and should be restricted. Further, in the case of Apparel Export Promotion Council v. A.K. Chopra, [6] it was held that the absence of physical contact would not prevent an unwanted act to fall under the ambit of sexual harassment. Further, in another case of Jaya Kodate v. Rashtrasant Tukdoji Maharaj Nagpur University, [7] it was held that the meaning of working place was purposely kept wide by the Parliament to guarantee that any zone where a woman experiences inappropriate behavior isn't left open for speculation. In light of these aforementioned cases and arguments, it is imperative to infer that work from home is covered under the scope of the POSH Act, 2013 and any violation is to be dealt with the same procedure and stringent measures as were dealt with formerly.

CONCLUSION

A safe workspace is a lawful right of the citizens while sexual harassment at the workplace is a gross infringement of the same. Therefore, managers and associations have the key obligation of eradicating sexual harassment in all structures inside their working place. The POSH Act is effective legislation that provides secure working conditions to women in physical as well as a virtual working place. The POSH Act has presented the idea of a ‘broadened workplace’. The said idea is unquestionably a positive step in securing women in the era of the virtual world. Sexual harassment in the virtual world has made it easier for women to gather evidence as opposed to offline working mode on the premises of the office. It is the lawful right of every woman working in an organized or unorganized sector to file a complaint or take action against those who are sexually harassing her or violating her dignity to live with respect. The POSH Act, 2013 is a weapon for the women to use against those who sexually harass her or violate her dignity in any manner.

Disclaimer: This article is an original submission of the Author. Niti Manthan does not hold any liability arising out of this article. Kindly refer to our Terms of use or write to us in case of any concerns.


FAQ

Q1. Whether work from home comes under the definition of ‘workplace’ covered under the POSH act or not?

Ans. According to the interpretation of Section 2(o) of the POSH Act, 2013, the word ‘workplace’ includes work from home and provides for the same remedial measure as it did before these unprecedented times of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

References

[1] Ivany Atina Arbi, ‘Virtual Harassment rampant during work- from- home, survey finds’, (The Jakarta Post 13 June 2020), <https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/06/13/virtual-harassment-rampant-during-work-from-home-survey-finds.html> accessed July 2020.

[2] Ministry of Law and Justice, ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013’ (The Gazette of India 23rd April 2013) <http://www.iitg.ac.in/iitgicc/docs/Sexual_Harassment_Act_2013.pdf.> accessed July 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jehoash Paul, ‘Does the POSH Act apply when working from home during a lockdown?’ (Feminism India 27 May 2020) <https://feminisminindia.com/2020/05/27/posh-act-apply-working-from-home-lockdown/> accessed July 2020.

[5] AIR 1997 SC 3011.

[6] 1997 IVAD Delhi 646.

[7] 2014 SCC OnLine Bom 814.


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