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    3 LAWS EVERY WORKING WOMAN IN INDIA MUST KNOW.

    Working women in India, many times lead a very high-powered, super-busy & engrossed work life. While many of us love our schedule & work hard to keep ourselves abreast with the latest news, newest skill & the next ladder to climb; we must make it a point to be just as aware of every tool in our arsenal - even the more abstruse ones, lest we need one along the way!

    Equality of opportunity and prohibition of discrimination on any grounds are enshrined in the Indian constitution. Prohibition on gender discrimination being one of the main features, quite a few laws and legislations have followed. These laws have a direct bearing upon our life of a working woman, but how familiar are you with them? 

    We at TBD, wanted to bring your attention to 3 main laws that every working woman in India should know, because the issues and policies they address are ones that our community is all too familiar with. One of the first steps to ensuring that your path to shattering that ceiling or reaching your career goals is uninterrupted, is to know your rights and to be aware of the provisions available to them.

    So without further ado, let’s deep-dive into each of the 3 laws you need to know better!

    I. DISCRIMINATION IN SALARY ON THE SOLE BASIS OF GENDER IS ILLEGAL & CAN BE REPORTED.

    Equal Remuneration Act, 1976

    This Act enforces:

    1. The duty of every employer to provide equal payment for the same work or work of similar nature without discriminating on the basis of gender.

    2. That there should be no gender discrimination in the recruitment or hiring process.

    3. Investigation of offences by an appointed officer for each case, with an advisory committee, half of which must be represented by women.

    4. Provision for the concept of ‘equity’, barring the terms or conditions of this law to affect the conditions of any other law that makes special provisions for women.

    What you can do:

    1. Be aware - keep abreast the kinds of market rates that exist for your specific occupation or industry.

    2. Ensure that you have proper evidence & keep proof of documentation as much as possible in a legal manner, if you wish to take a legal recourse against a current/potential employer who you understand to be discriminating against you in terms of hiring or remuneration.

    3. Take into account other unique criteria that may exist apart from similar kinds of work, including experience, unique skill sets or career paths. Carefully evaluate how similar your own situation is and consult a legal advisor to help you understand your options and its implications.

    Here are a few hypothetical and purely fictional instances to help illustrate the above points -

    Tina and her John work for the same company. They graduated together from the same college, have very similar work experience and do the same kind of work. However, Tina is still paid 20% less than John. This would be a violation of the Equal Remuneration Act on part of their employer.

    Rahul and Ria are both up for a job with a hiring committee that is composed of men only. Ria has more experience, higher qualifications and better references than Rahul. In the interview processes, Rahul is asked insightful questions about his skills & career path. Ria, is only asked about her marriage status & her family planning for the future. The committee being more comfortable hiring men such as themselves, skip over Ria’s qualifications and employ Rahul solely based on his gender. This would be gender discrimination during the process of hiring according to this Act.

    If you would like to know more about the Equal Remuneration act in detail, click here for links to a few online resources.



    II. Sexual Harassment at THE Workplace IS UNLAWFUL and can be reported. 

    The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act (‘POSH’ Act), 2013 

    The Act prohibits all forms of sexual harassment at the work place & defines the instances and situations that include sexual harassment as -

    1. Physical Contacts & advances
    2. A demand or request for sexual favours
    3. Making sexually coloured remarks
    4. Showing Pornography
    5. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of any nature
    6. Promise of preferential treatment in employment
    7. Threat of detrimental treatment in employment
    8. Threat about present or future employment
    9. Creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile environment at work
    10. Humiliating treatment, potentially endangering health or safety

    The act clearly mandates employers to provide a safe working space for all their employees, which is devoid of any kind of physical, social, sexual or psychological harassment & provide training as well as redressal structures to safeguard their employees from such events.

    What you should know about lodging a complaint as provided by the ‘POSH’ Act -

    1. The Posh Act requires every workplace with more than 10 employees to have an internal complaint committee (ICC) with at least half of it being represented by women for addressing the company’s POSH law policy - This ICC is where you can go to lodge a complaint regarding sexual harassment. The internal council is required to keep your complaint confidential and is presided over by a senior female employee from your organization.

    2. Be aware of what’s happening around you & secure any evidence possible (that is procured by legal means) to support your complaint.

    3. The accused is notified of the complaint while maintaining confidentiality and gets 10 working days to submit his reply along with the list of witnesses and documents. Thereafter, the committee is supposed to hear the victim, the individual against whom the complaint has been filed and the witnesses on board and present a report.

    4. The aggrieved employee and the respondent have the right to cross-examine all witnesses in the form of written questions and responses via the committee only. The working rules of the ICC state that the respondent shall have no right to directly cross-examine the victim or her witnesses.

    5. If you are employed in an organisation with less than 10 employees, you can lodge your complaint with a local complaint committee which is appointed by the district.

    OTHER RESOURCES

    1. To know more details on the definitions under this act, please click to view this link.

    2. The POSH act also makes provisions for sexual harassment at work, even when you are working from home. Due to current circumstances, many of us find WFH to be our new reality. Please click here to read an interesting article on this topic.

    3. The ‘POSH’ act makes extensive provisions to prevent, prohibit & hold abusers of sexual harassment at the workplace responsible for their actions. It also has an extensive and fascinating history that sheds light on the issues faced by working women in India for decades - you can read more on the same here and here.

    4. Click here for a detailed handbook on Sexual harassment at the workplace - prevention, prohibition & redressal act, 2013.

    5. Click here for a very informative compilation of FAQs that has the potential to further address any queries and expand awareness on recourses available in the case of sexual harassment at the workplace.

    Please note : As we are writing this article for the benefit & usefulness of working women, them being the demographic that primarily faces sexual harassment at the workplace, we have created the above note from a female perspective. This does not, however, mean that men are immune to harassment of this kind. Persons from all genders are exposed to this, women however, are disproportionately so according to every statistical indication.

    III. MATERNITY RIGHTS AT THE WORKPLACE

    Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 

    This Act, along with its amendment in 2017, entitles women employees in any organisation with 10+ employees to:

    1. Paid maternity leave for 26 weeks. This benefit can be availed by women for a period extending up to a maximum of 8 weeks before the expected delivery date and the remaining time can be availed after childbirth. For women who are having 2 or more surviving children, the duration of paid maternity leave shall be 12 weeks (i.e. 6 weeks before and 6 weeks after expected date of delivery).

    2. A mandatory creche facility for establishments with over 50 employees, providing clean and sanitary conditions.

    3. Maternity leave for adoptive and commissioning mothers, and a work from home option.

    4. The Maternity Benefit Amendment Act makes it mandatory for employers to educate women about the maternity benefits available to them at the time of their appointment.

    One of the major challenges of this legislation is that it is counterproductive to the socio-economic acceptance of women in the workplace by employers during the hiring process (also posing challenges to the equal remuneration act of 1976) because the maternity benefit act enforces heavy costs that have to be borne by the employer alone, without any schemes, support or contributions from the state. 

    Read more about the Maternity Benefit Act here.

    Hillary Clinton once stated that ‘Women’s rights are human rights’ - that could not be more true & stands to reason that in our determination to see a future of equal pay, opportunities & women-friendly workplaces, we must know our rights, understand their pitfalls & fight for them when needed.

    Just as they say “Ignorantia juris non excusat” (Ignorance of the law excuses not): it would be fair that seeking justice in life-choices & gender parity at the workplace requires a similar vigilance and awareness of the laws that are existing currently if their implementation & practical application is to be ensured.

    We write this article in hope that you find this useful & informative. When one woman stands up for her rights & is aware of them, she does so for so many others & creates a chain reaction of meaningful impact.

    Here’s to you & us all!

    Neha Sane - Jun 09 2020

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