7 Feb 2023 8:30 AM GMT
The Delhi High Court has observed that institutions cannot escape the liability for dragging on sensitive sexual harassment complaints under Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act and that management and authorities must behave in a responsible manner. Observing that constitution of the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) is of utmost importance in such cases, Justice Prathiba...
The Delhi High Court has observed that institutions cannot escape the liability for dragging on sensitive sexual harassment complaints under Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act and that management and authorities must behave in a responsible manner.
Observing that constitution of the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) is of utmost importance in such cases, Justice Prathiba M Singh said:
“Adjudication of complaints relating to sexual harassment need to be dealt with utmost care. The inquiry needs to be by a duly constituted ICC and the same needs to be complete in all aspects. Institutions cannot escape liability for dragging on these sensitive complaints.”
The court made the observations while hearing a plea moved by a woman who had filed a complaint in July, 2019, to the Head of HR of IFCI Factors Limited (IFL) alleging sexual harassment by a senior official.
The complaint was placed before the Managing Director of IFL who forwarded it to HR and CVO of IFCI Group to take up the matter in their ICC as the accused personnel was an employee of IFCI. The General Manager of IFCI Ltd. marked the complaint back to IFL.
The ICC of IFL was formed on July 30, 2019, and proceedings were initiated. The committee was then reconstituted twice in August 2019 and once again on February 24, 2020. A report was submitted in March 2020 directing the accused employee to give a written apology.
A letter was written to the ICC by Chief General Manager of IFCI Ltd. stating that the committee’s recommendations were accepted by the Disciplinary Authority and necessary orders were also issued.
The employee however filed an appeal to the Appellate Authority of IFCI Ltd. (Board of Directors) and a re-examination was directed to be conducted by ICC of IFCI.
The petitioner had challenged the letter in question on the ground that since re-examination was directed, she no longer wanted to participate in the enquiry as the complaint dated back to 2019. It was her case that she did not want be subjected to a second round of proceedings before the ICC as it was extremely frustrating and torturous.
On the other hand, it was the case of accused employee that his statutory remedy of appeal under section 18 of POSH Act cannot be taken away.
The counsel appearing for ICFI Ltd. submitted that there was a technical error in the constitution of the ICC because of which the company had taken a decision to get the matter re-examined.
Granting relief to the petitioner, Justice Singh observed that in matters relating to complaints under POSH Act, the constitution of ICC is of utmost importance and that the same has to be in accordance with the provisions of the enactment.
“The management and authorities of the organisations have to behave in a responsible manner and on the mere ground that the constitution was incorrect, a re-examination of the whole proceedings cannot be directed under the present facts and circumstances,” the court said.
The court noted that the Board of Directors of IFCI had merely directed re-examination by ICC when admittedly the petitioner was working in IFL. It also noted that the accused employee at the relevant time was deputed to IFL as Managing Director.
“As is evident from the present case, the complaint dates back to 2019 and in view of the recent action of IFCI Ltd. the matter has come back to square one. The complainant cannot be harassed and put to inconvenience to appear again and again before the ICC, even of a connected organisation and be expected to produce witnesses to support her case, all over again. Even the said witnesses may not be available now in the organisation,” it said.
Disposing of the plea, the court directed IFCI Ltd. to pay a cost of Rs. 1 lakh to the petitioner, keeping in mind the fact that the alleged error was by the entity due to which the re-examination was directed.
“The costs shall be paid within four weeks by the Respondent No.2. in mind the fact that the alleged error was by IFCI Ltd. due to which the re-examination has been directed,” the court said.
Case Title: P v. UNION OF INDIA AND ORS
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Del) 126
Click Here To Read Order