What amounts to sexual harassments in the Indian Context?

The Ministry of Women and Child Development in India has enacted a separate legislation on the subject of sexual harassment in the Indian workplace. Entitled The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2007, the Bill stipulates that:

No woman employee at a work place shall be subjected to sexual harassment including unwelcome sexually determined behavior, physical contact, advances, sexually colored remarks, showing pornography, sexual demand, request for sexual favors, or any other unwelcome conduct of sexual nature whether verbal, textual, physical, graphic or electronic or by any other actions which may include:

1) implied or overt promise of preferential treatment in employment; or
2) implied or overt threat of detrimental treatment in employment ; or
3) implied or overt threat about the present or future employment status;
4) conduct that interferes with work or creates an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment ; or
5) humiliating conduct constituting health and safety problems

Specifying the duties of the employer in respect of this Act, the bill further posits that the employer shall —

1) provide a safe working environment at the workplace
2) display at any conspicuous place in the workplace the Office Order made under subsection (1) of section 4:
3) undertake workshops and training programs to regular intervals for sensitizing the members;
4) provide necessary facilities to the Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, to deal with the complaint and conduct enquiry;

In its Judgment dated August 13, 1997 in the Vishaka case the Supreme Court set out certain guidelines and norms for the prevention and redress of sexual harassment of women at the workplace. It was directed in the judgment that the guidelines and norms would be treated as the law declared by the Supreme Court under Article 141 of the Constitution and the same would be strictly observed in all workplaces for the preservation and enforcement of the right of gender equality of the working women. It was also stressed in the judgment that the directions therein would be binding and enforceable in law until suitable legislation was enacted to occupy the field.

Infosys Technologies Ltd., the Bangalore based global IT major, had to pay out $ 3 million to Reka Maximovitch, the plaintiff in a out of court settlement in the sexual harassment lawsuit against the company’s former board member Phaneesh Murthy, who was based in the US. The lawsuit was filed by Phaneesh’s executive secretary, a Bulgarian American national, complaining of sexual harassment and wrongful termination of her employment.

In Rupan Deol Bajaj v K P S Gill, Rupan Bajaj a senior IAS officer was slapped on the posterior by the then Chief of Police, Punjab, Mr KPS Gill at a dinner party in July 1988. Rupan Bajaj filed against him despite the public opinion that she was blowing it out of proportion and notwithstanding attempts by senior officials of the state to suppress the matter. The Supreme Court in January, 1998, fined Mr KPS Gill Rs 2.5 lakhs lieu of three months rigorous imprisonment under sections 294 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code.

Can unions and management cooperate?

Historically, the relationship between a labor union and management has been based on conflict. The interests of labor and management have been basically at odds each treating the other as the opposition. But times have changed somewhat. Management has become increasingly aware that successful efforts to increase productivity, improve quality and lower costs require employee involvement and commitment. Similarly some labor unions have come to recognize that they can help their members more by cooperating with management than fighting it.