Sexual Harassment at Workplace

  1. Definition of Sexual Harassment


    Sexual harassment is an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction in the circumstances



Sexual harassment at the workplace

“Sexual Harassment” includes anyone or more of the following unwelcome acts or behaviour ( whether directly or by implication), namely;

  1. Physical contact or advances.
  2. A  demand or request for sexual favours.
  3. Making sexually coloured remarks.
  4. Showing pornography.
  5. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.


Key elements of workplace sexual harassment

  • Very often situations that start off innocently end up in inappropriate and unprofessional behaviours.
  • It is important to remember that workplace sexual harassment is sexual, unwelcome and the experience is subjective.
  • It is the impact and not the intent that matters and it almost always occurs in a matrix of power.
  • It is possible that a woman  may experience a single instance of sexual harassment or a series of incidents over a period of time.
  • It is important also to remember that each case is unique and should be examined in its own context and according to the surrounding circumstances as a whole.
  • To enable prevention of  sexual harassment at the workplace, it is critical to  recognize and differentiate between welcome and  unwelcome sexual behaviour.
  • Listed are some examples of how “unwelcome” and “welcome” behaviour is experienced.


What does the Law on Sexual Harassment at Workplace say: 

The Sexual harassment of women at the workplace was not considered as specific offence till the time the Apex Court of India, gave its landmark judgment in Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan laying down specific guidelines and giving directions to the employers to have sexual harassment policy in the workplace and to consider sexual harassment as a serious offence. Prior to 1997, sexual harassment was dealt with under Section 509 and 354 of the Indian Penal Code, however these sections did not specifically define the act, words or gestures which amounts to the offence of sexual harassment and it was left to the whims and fancies of the Person deciding the Case according to their value judgement. 

Though the Hon’ble Supreme Court gave directions to curb the offense of sexual harassment of women at workplace, the legislation came up with the enactment after 16 years of the above-mentioned judgment. There is a difference between sexual harassment and rape. As per Section 2(n) of the SH Act, 2013, Sexual harassment includes any one or more of the acts or behaviour: Physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, making sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature. The 2013 Act covers a wide range of the acts, behaviour or gestures which can make a woman uncomfortable and creates a hostile work environment for a woman and undermine the potential of a person to work and perform well at the workplace. Sexual harassment, when encountered at work, at events relating to work, amongst people sharing the same workplace or between colleagues outside of work, violates the principles of Article 19 (1) g of the Indian Constitution.


Ways to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

  • Informing employees that harassment is prohibited;
  • Identifying who employees should contact to discuss harassment questions or concerns.
  • Assuring employees that they will not be punished for asking questions or sharing their concerns.
  • Responding to harassment questions or concerns and investigating harassment complaints promptly and effectively.
  • Ensuring that managers understand their responsibility to stop, address and prevent harassment.