Industrialization and globalization paved way for influx of women in the workforce, resultantly, prevention of sexual harassment at workplace assumed greater importance. Harassment and discrimination violates the fundamental rights of a person, impedes growth and exposes to physical and emotional suffering coupled with mental trauma.

Protection against sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity are universally recognised human rights by international conventions and instruments. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“POSH Act”) is aimed at providing a safe, secure and dignified working environment to women free from all forms of harassment. Redressal of grievance and fair adjudication of the complaint is a sine qua non for dispensation of justice.

The legislation has safeguards to ensure that the safety of men at work is not jeopardised and that the provisions of the POSH Act are neither used as a weapon to settle personal vendetta nor misused by filing false complaints which can have repercussions on men as they undergo torture, extortion and public humiliation so much so that it leaves them scarred for life both at personal and professional fronts.

Respite under the POSH Act:

The POSH Act has safeguards to check the menace of false complaints and prevent misuse of the legislation so as to ensure justice is served to worthy: –

  1. Initiation of Action Against False Complaint: – The POSH Act specifically provides that if the Internal Complaints Committee /Local Committee (“ICC” or “Committee”) arrives at a conclusion that either the complaint was malicious or false evidence was adduced to avail favourable orders, the ICC may recommend t action against the complainant as per the applicable service rules of the employer. Same actions could be taken against the Complainant as would have been taken against the accused, if found guilty under the provisions of the said Act.
  1. Provisions of Appeal: – One of the significant mechanisms to prevent abuse of the process of law is the appeal provision enunciated in Section 18 of the POSH Act. The respondent has the ‘right to appeal’ under section 18 of the POSH Act read with applicable service rules in case the respondent is not satisfied with the recommendations/findings arrived at in the complaint by the ICC. The appeal can be preferred within a period of ninety days from the date of recommendation.

Paving the way:

The Courts in India have also started taking stern actions on false complaints filed under the POSH Act, which is a welcome move and will pave the way for the balanced approach to be taken towards the incidents of sexual harassment at the workplace. Recently, the Delhi High Court in the matter of Anita Suresh vs Union of India & Others[1], dismissed the petition for its ‘lack of merit’ and ordered the costs of Rs. 50,000/- on the petitioner for filing a false complaint and misusing the provisions of the POSH Act. The single judge bench comprising of Justice J.R Midha also granted liberty to the respondent-ESI Corporation to initiate appropriate action against the petitioner for the same. 

Conclusion:

Anita Suresh’s judgement has the potential to what can possibly be a watershed moment in rethinking the provisions of the POSH Act from a different perspective. This decision also gives us a revelation as to how provisions of the POSH Act can also be misused for settling personal vendetta. The Court has rightly come to the aid of the Respondent who otherwise would have fallen victim to shaming and the surrounding social stigma that could have been fatal to both his personal and professional life. 

Need of the hour is that though we should be sensitive towards the cause but at the same time should not get blinded by pre-conceived notions like ‘men are always wrong; women can never lie.’ The wronged woman must get justice but at the same time a man should not be wronged as well. The principles of socialism and social justice should not be pushed to extremities so as to become a weapon in the hands of few to be misused for ulterior motives. The right balance must be struck. The workplace environment should be such that the harassment matters do not go unreported and at the same time men should not be made to undergo torture and humiliation on account of false complaint.

Let’s not crush the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” in our quest for “Justice”.


[1] W.P (C) 5114/2015

Contributed By – Smita Paliwal, Partner
Richa K Gaurav, Associate

King Stubb & Kasiva,
Advocates & Attorneys

Click Here to Get in Touch

New Delhi | Mumbai | Bangalore | Chennai | Hyderabad | Kochi
Tel: +91 11 41032969 | Email: info@ksandk.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *