Safeguarding Women Employees

A series of horrific incidents of crime against women are being reported from different parts of India including the commercial centres of Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata. India has recently been ranked as the 4th most dangerous place in the world for women, by India Today. A survey conducted by Hindustan Times showed that almost 97 percent women in Delhi have faced some form of sexual harassment or assault.
Every single day single women, young girls, mothers and women from all walks of life are being assaulted, molested, and violated. Both government and corporations have acknowledged the gravity of the situation. India has taken a number of steps, including toughening its laws, in an effort to rein in sexual violence, but attacks continue. Activists argue that legal system is slow to prosecute rape cases, but officials say the number of rape cases have increased because of the awareness on the part of the victims, who come forward to lodge complaints. However, only 15 percent of rape victims actually report the crime to the police.
Implications for organisations:
Securing the workplace
Office premises: Installation of cameras at vulnerable spots like elevators, lobbies, parking areas etc. for vigilance and deterrence.
In transit: Companies operating during the day-hours should encourage their employees, particularly women, to leave premises before dark. They could be told to work from home, if required. Organisations that operate 24*7 e.g. ITeS, call centres, hospitals etc. should provide company transport to their employees. They must be accompanied by a female escort even in company-provided transport.
Outstation: Organisations must have a list of hotels available at the travel desk. These hotels must be vetted by the organization and rated as per safety and security standards. The hotels must be identified in every budget category entitled to the staff and the staff must mandatorily be accommodated in the hotels preidentified as ‘safe’ by the organisation. To ensure safe transit, local transport should be arranged by companies local travel desk or through the hotel where the employees require staying.
Internal policy: The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013: The Act is enacted by the Indian Parliament to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Internal Complaints Committee: The Act makes it mandatory for every employer to constitute an internal complaints committee (“ICC”), which accepts the complaints made by any aggrieved women. The members of the ICC are to be nominated by the employer and ICC should consist of
i. A Presiding Officer,
ii. Not less than two members
from amongst employees preferably committed to the cause or women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge and
iii. One member from amongst
non-governmental organizations or associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment. In order to ensure participation of women employees in the ICC proceedings, the Act requires that at least one-half of the members of ICC nominated by employer are women.
Local Complaints Committee: Provisions are provided under the Act to form Local Complaints Committee (LCC) for every district for receiving complaints of sexual harassment from establishments where the ICC has not been formed due to having less than 10 workers or if the complaint is against the employer himself.
Complaint procedure: The Act stipulates that aggrieved woman can make written complaint of sexual harassment at workplace to the ICC or to the LCC (in case a complaint is against the employer), within a period of three months from the date of incident and in case of a series of incidents, within a period of three months from the date of last incident. If the aggrieved woman is unable to make complaint in writing, reasonable assistance shall be rendered by the presiding officer or any member of the ICC (or in case the aggrieved woman is unable to make complaint in writing to the LCC, the reasonable assistance shall be rendered by the Chairperson or any member of the LCC) for making the complaint in writing.
Beyond the workplace
Training: Women employees should be formally trained in safety awareness and self-defence since other safety measures may not carry beyond the eco-space controlled by the company. Sensitization sessions should also be conducted to create awareness about the legal rights available to them.
While complete eradication of crime against women might not be a realistic expectation given the deep entrenched societal flaws, lack of reporting, distrust in judiciary, efficacy of law enforcement agencies or the lack of it and other challenges; organizations can institute mechanisms and practices that will go a long way in safeguarding their women employees.

The Author works at MitKat Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd., which is a premium risk management consultancy firm.