Sexual harassment complaints at workplace should be handled with care: Delhi HC

The court ruled that the adjudication of harassment complaints must be handled with care, conducted by a properly constituted ICC, and completed in all aspects.

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The Delhi High Court recently emphasised the importance of handling sexual harassment complaints at the workplace with care. The court stated that companies cannot evade responsibility by dragging out cases and that the constitution of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act is crucial.

The court ruled that the adjudication of harassment complaints must be handled with care, conducted by a properly constituted ICC, and completed in all aspects. The management and authorities of organisations must act responsibly and cannot re-examine proceedings simply due to the incorrect constitution of the ICC.

The Delhi High Court was considering a case filed by a woman who accused a senior official of sexual harassment. The complaint was submitted in July 2019 to the head of the  HR department of a company that  provides financial services.

The complaint was then referred to the managing director, who forwarded it to the HR department and the chief vigilance officer of the group company for investigation by their ICC since the accused was an employee of the group company. However, the general manager of the group company returned the complaint  to the financial services company on July 10, 2019.

The financial services company’s ICC was established in July 2019 to investigate the woman’s complaint of sexual harassment. The ICC was reconstituted three times, and in March 2020, the committee submitted a report directing the accused employee to write an apology.

The recommendations were accepted by the Disciplinary Authority and necessary orders were issued. The accused employee then appealed to the group company’s appellate authority (Board of Directors), which resulted in a re-examination by the ICC of the group company.

The woman objected to this re-examination, claiming it was frustrating and torturous to be subjected to a second round of proceedings before the committee and that she has moved on with her life. Meanwhile, the accused employee argued that his right to appeal under Section 18 of the POSH Act should not be taken away. The group company’s counsel claimed that there was a technical error in the ICC’s constitution and  thus a re-examination was necessary.

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