By Adv. Abhishek Kumar Singh

Twenty-seven-year-old Poorna Sharma was on a roll. As a  manager at a well-known MNC, she was the toast of her department. Clients and company bosses were pleased with her performance. There was no room for complaint. Soon it was time for yearly appraisals and forms were being filled by all employees. One afternoon she received a text message from her supervisor Amit, complimenting her on her office wear and presentation skills. Poorna sent back a smiley icon. The next day another text came. Amit complimented Poorna on her work and asked her out for lunch. Poorna dismissed it as casual flirting. But over the next two weeks, Amit flooded her with personal messages during work hours and even afterwards. Poorna blamed herself for not being very firm with Amit. When the messages got obsessive, Poorna confronted Amit. He said he would mess  her yearly appraisal, if she did not get into a relationship with him. Shocked, Poorna approached the company HR the next day and filed a sexual harassment case.  

Last year a study in India threw up some interesting insights about sexual harassment at workplace in India. According to Indian National Bar Association (INBA)  6,047 participants (both male and female) were interviewed on this issue. Approximately  38% admitted that they had faced harassment at the workplace in some form or the other. The remaining 69% did not bother to complain about it and opted to keep things quiet.

Incidents of Sexual harassment at workplace are a much talked about/ debated topic of discussion over the last decade in urban India with an ever-increasing presence. Women are now utilizing the provisions of law to expose and punish their tormentors more so now than ever before. However, it has also been observed that the law is also prone to misuse for achieving nefarious objectives. Cases from TERI, Wipro, Airbus, Infosys etc have flooded the media and workplace conversations.

Lawclik has collated a set of important facts which fall in the category of Sexual Harassment at Workplace. This is what you should know :

  1. Standing in the way of a person in a bid to physically block their movement.
  2. ‘Accidental’ touching of a body part.
  3. Staring openly at a person’s body up and down.
  4. Stalking someone.
  5. Sending lewd or suggestive jokes/images/stories/texts/whatsapp/emails causing discomfort.
  6. Insulting comments about someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation or asking about someone’s sexual orientation.
  7. Inappropriate and suggestive touching.
  8. Asking for lunch/dinner dates/outstation trips despite being refused.
  9. Asking for sexual relationship with a colleague.
  10. Deliberately initiating sexually offensive facial expressions, gestures or remarks.


If you have been sexually harassed at work, then you should immediately jot down the incident with all details. Keep copies of all written communication between yourself and your employer for reference as they can be important evidence against the perpetrator.  Thereafter approach your supervisor in the workplace and also your HR department for further action.

Every employer in the country is governed by the The Sexual Harassment Act wherein he has to punish the perpetrator who has harassed his employee. Every employer that employs more than ten people must constitute an Internal Complaints Committee ('ICC'), provide training to members of the ICC to investigate into complaints of sexual harassment and also, abide by the orders of the ICC. Failure to constitute an ICC can cost the employer up to Rs 50,00 for the first offence and subsequently, the loss of working license for a repeat offence.

Laws that you should know about sexual harassment (not just at workplace)

  1. If anyone is singing a lewd or suggestive song in your presence or in a public setting, it is construed as sexual harassment. The perpetrator can be booked under Section 294 IPC, which is an offence punishable with an imprisonment upto 3 months alongwith imposition of fine.  
  2. If a person threatens any female with any harm which may be targeted at her body, reputation or property woman turns down sexual advances in case she turns down his advances, then it’s a criminal offence under Section 503, IPC punishable with an imprisonment upto 2 years alongwith imposition of fine.
  3. If a woman is subjected to sexually laced comments publicly, then a person can be hauled under Section 509 IPC and jailed for 3 years along with imposition of fine.

Most sexual harassment laws gravitate towards women. There are growing number of cases where men too have been harassed by female and male supervisors and colleagues at work. None of the laws in India, focus on this aspect.

Certain statistics indicate that this phenomena is not just limited to men in India alone. In 2009, 16% of all sexual harassment cases were filed by men in the US and in UK, two out of five sexual harassment victims in the UK were male, with 8% percent men filed sexual harassment complaints to the Equal Opportunities Commission (Britain's EEOC).  Lawclik feels that laws should be gender-neutral and required amendments should be made keeping the changing social dynamics, in mind.

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