Welcome to
IT Section

Sexual harassment:The need for effective legislation

Sexual harassment at the workplace is one of those subjects rarely discussed in any open forum in India. But times are changing and with more women entering the workplace, the issue is gaining importance, says Sruthi Sagar Ananthachari,CBSI Inc.

Harassment and US law

  • Sexual harassment legislation had its beginning in the US. It is part of federal anti discrimination legislation covered under Title VII, Civil Rights Act, 1964, which prohibits discrimination or segregation based on race, color, national origin, religion, and gender in all conditions of employment. This was passed to bring about equality in hiring, transfers, promotions, compensation, access to training, and other employment-related decisions.

  • Today, if you are a subsidiary of a US corporation and do not have a sexual harassment policy, you are sitting on a potential minefield. I would urge you to have such a policy, as an indiscriminate act by one of your employees or supervisors could trigger a lawsuit.

Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act defines the basic rights of employees. We do not have an equivalent piece of legislation in India. However, globalisation will soon force all of us in various industries to come up with internal policies to prohibit sexual harassment at the workplace.

In India, I have personally dealt with several cases of sexual harassment at the workplace. Generally, women employees do not come forward and complain about inappropriate behavior at work. In the last 15 years alone, I have had instances in the IT industry where persons in a supervisory or managerial position had asked for sexual favours.

Types of harassment

Quid pro quoharassment: Be it a good project for which you are being considered or an early promotion opportunity, there could be a tacit message from the supervisor for a quid pro quo this for that. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employee is forced to choose between giving in to a superior’s sexual demands or forfeiting an economic benefit such as a pay increase, promotion, or continued employment. A good case to cite here would be the famous Paula Jones case. Each one of you may be aware of several instances of quid pro quo at your workplace.

Hostile environmentharassment:Sometimes, sexual misconduct is so severe and pervasive that it interferes with an individual’s performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Harassment can be caused by supervisors, co-workers, or non-employees such as customers. For hostile environment, I would refer to the Mitsubishi car manufacturing plant in the US, where women employees were subject to explicit sexual remarks and acts by male workers at the assembly line.

Culture shock?

  • There was an instance in the US where a woman employee complained that an Indian among a group of software contractors at a particular site made an explicit remark about her anatomy when she was passing by and all of them laughed.

  • I had to spend several hours sitting with my attorney to try and settle the case. I also organised a crash course on what constitutes sexual harassment for all the employees working at that location.

  • It may not be bad idea to include what constitutes sexual harassment in your orientation kit prior to deputing an employee for an overseas assignment.

I hope this will help to bring in awareness on this issue and also that there will soon be a law in India on this sensitive and serious issue.

Also Checkout
Leading a team
Dynamism and discipline
Navigating behaviour maze
How women handle emotions at work

Powered by WebIndia