What is Sexual Harassment in workplace? - What Constitutes Sexual harassment? - Meaning and Definition

Sexual harassment, is intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. In some contexts or circumstances, sexual harassment is illegal. It includes a range of behavior from seemingly mild transgressions and annoyances to actual sexual abuse or sexual assault.

Sexual harassment is a form of illegal employment discrimination in many countries, and is a form of abuse (sexual and psychological) and bullying. For many businesses, preventing sexual harassment, and defending employees from sexual harassment charges, have become key goals of legal decision-making. In contrast, many scholars complain that sexual harassment in education remains a "forgotten secret," with educators and administrators refusing to admit the problem exists in their schools, or accept their legal and ethical responsibilities to deal with it (Dziech, 1990).

Globalization and trade liberalization have resulted in the expansion of industrial sectors where women constitute the majority of the workforce. This new opportunity for employment, particularly in non-industrialized countries, has brought many economic and social gains to women, helping them to overcome society's taboos and restrictions on women's behavior. However, declining economic and social conditions worldwide have forced women to work in low-paid jobs with little security, benefits, or future. This type of industrial setting can often replicate the patriarchal control that women work to escape from, often being exposed to sexual harassment, poor conditions, and little health care or education opportunities.

In addition, women are expected to maintain their household and child-rearing duties.

What Constitutes Sexual harassment?

    • Physical contact and advances

    • Any demand or request for sexual favours by any person

    • Making sexually coloured remarks by any person

    • Showing or exhibiting pornography and / or sexually explicit material by any means.

    • Sending undesirable sexually coloured written messages, text messages, e-mail messages, or any such messages by electronic or other means

    • Stalking or consistently following aggrieved woman in the office precincts & outside

    • Voyeurism including overt or tacit observation by the person by any means of the aggrieved woman in her private moments

    • Any conduct whereby the person takes advantage of his position and subjects the aggrieved woman to any form of sexual harassment and seeks sexual favours specially while holding out career advancements whether explicitly or implicitly as an incentive or a natural result of submitting to the insinuations / demands of the male person

    • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature

    • Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her career

    • Implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in her career

    • Implied or explicit threat about her present or future career

    • Interferes with her work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her; or

    • Any treatment having a sexual colour or content likely to affect her emotional and / or physical health or safety

Nisha Priya Bhatia v. Union of India & Anr. CA No. 2365/2020 (Supreme Court of India)

" The approach of law as regards the cases of sexual harassment at workplace is not confined to cases of actual commission of acts of harassment, but also covers situations wherein the woman employee is subjected to prejudice, hostility, discriminatory attitude and humiliation in day to day functioning at the workplace."

Facts [+]

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are sixty-three million working women in America. Though women make up nearly half the workforce, those with families perform more than 90 percent of the household and childhood duties.

India: 17% of working women in India report having experienced sexual harassment at work places, according to an Oxfam opinion poll, 'sexual harassment at work places in India 2011-2012',

Most of these women reported to have faced incidents that were ""non-physical."" At least 66 of the 400 respondents reported having faced 121 incidents of sexual harassment. Nearly 102 out of 121 incidents were reported to be non-physical, whereas the remaining 19 incidents were physical in nature.

(In India 80% of working women emphasise need of separate law on sexual harassment at the workplace) The top three industries that have emerged unsafe for women are labourers (29%), domestic help (23%) and small scale manufacturing (16%).

Sexual harassment has developed into one of the most controversial, complex and perhaps widespread HR problems in the world. One of the first attempts to measure the extent of sexual harassment internationally was undertaken by Redbook magazine in the USA. Of the 9000 women workers who responded to the survey, 80% reported that they had experienced some form of unwanted attention on the job." A national study also undertaken in the USA of over 14 000 workers found that 42% of the women and 14% of the men had experienced some form of sexual harass­ment in a three-years period. The study also found that only 5% of the men and women who had experienced harassment chose to report it.

The primary reasons why the other 95% did not report their harassment include the following:

    • Absence of any complaint mechanism at the workplace

    • Fear of loss of reputation

    • Not aware of redressal mechanism of sexual harassment at the workplace.

    • The fear of losing one's job; if she's sole earning member of their family.

    • The need for a future job reference;

    • The possibility of being considered a troublemaker;

    • The assumption that nothing would change if harassment was reported;

    • Concern about being accused of inviting the harassment;

    • A reluctance to draw public attention to private lives;

    • The prospect of emotional stress for filing a lawsuit and undergoing long, costly legal procedures.

Oct 2018: Google sacks dozens over sexual harassment

Google has sacked 48 people including 13 senior managers over sexual harassment claims since 2016.

In a letter to employees, chief executive Sundar Pichai said the tech giant was taking a "hard line" on inappropriate conduct. The letter was in response to a New York Times report that Android creator Andy Rubin received a $90m exit package despite facing misconduct allegations.

A spokesman for Mr Rubin denied the allegations, the newspaper said. He was given what the paper described as a "hero's farewell" when he departed. Mr Pichai's letter said the New York Times story was "difficult to read" and that Google was "dead serious" about providing a "safe and inclusive workplace"

"We want to assure you that we review every single complaint about sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct, we investigate and we take action," he continued.