Women who are sexually harassed at their workplaces in the private sector can now lodge their complaints on a government portal, Minister for Women and Child Development (WCD) Maneka Gandhi said today.
Launching the portal, the minister said the online complaint management system — 'SHe-box' (sexual harassment electronic box) — would be hosted on the WCD's website.
Harassment could include the use of foul language or cracking of lewd jokes, she said.
The complaint mechanism, which the ministry had initiated for government employees in July, is now open for women working in the private sector, too.
"We received 346 complaints from women employed in the government sector. Seeing such a huge response we are opening SHe-box to all women who have faced any kind of sexual harassment at the workplace in India," Gandhi told reporters.
Referring to the #MeToo campaign on Twitter sparked by allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Gandhi said, "India is the first country in the world that is responding as a government."
A cell under the ministry will look into every complaint filed online and share it with the concerned organisation's internal complaints committee (ICC), which is a mandatory requirement under the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013.
Complainants will also be able to monitor the status of the inquiry initiated by the ICC.
Elaborating on the kind of offences women can complain about online, Gandhi said, "Not just physical harassment but also complaints of being transferred or terminated by an employer, discrimination due to maternity (can be filed). It is not necessary that there is physical touch but (harassment can include) men using foul language or cracking lewd jokes."
While the law requires all organisations to submit an annual report on the number of complaints of sexual harassment received, there is no mechanism to ensure compliance.
Maneka Gandhi said she would appeal to the finance ministry once again to make the disclosure of the constitution of an ICC mandatory under Section 134 of the Companies Act, 2013 -- a proposal earlier shot down.
Under the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013, it is compulsory for any organisation with 10 or more employees to set up an ICC for addressing complaints of sexual misconduct.
A committee should consist of a presiding officer who is a woman employee at a senior level in the same organisation, at least two employees "preferably committed to the cause of women", and a member from an NGO or a person "familiar with issues relating to sexual harassment".
The committee would have powers similar to that of a civil court and have to complete its inquiry within 90 days. An employer who doesn't constitute an ICC could face a fine of up to Rs 50,000.