Tackling Workplace Harassment: What You Should Know About Your Rights

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This article is written by Jawaria A. Kashif, Advocate High Court, Lahore. You can get in touch with her on email here, and her Facebook page here.

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Know your rights for Workplace Harassment

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[fusion_dropcap]M[/fusion_dropcap]ore and more women are stepping out of their houses to join men in the Pakistani workforce. While this provides a boon in the overall economic growth of the country, workplace harassment cases are very common especially for ladies. Most women prefer to suffer in silence for fear of bad name or other such consequences. It is imperative that they know their rights so that they may know what course of action to take. The Pakistani law has proper provisions and laws set aside for matters such as this. Read on to find out more.

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Jawaria Kashif, Advocate High Court, Lahore

Workplace harassment is also known by many other names. “Mobbing”, “workplace bullying”, “workplace mistreatment”, “workplace aggression”, and “workplace abuse”. Workplace harassment includes different types of discrimination and acts of violation that are not limited to one specific group. The wide-ranging types of workplace harassment can be loosely categorized into emotional and physical abuse.

Any act of discrimination or assault that systematically harms the employees in any way is considered to be workplace harassment.

Workplace harassment is based on two premises.

  • Firstly, regardless of gender, race, sexuality or any other defining characteristic, every person should be given the right to be “free from abusive treatment in the workplace”.
  • Secondly, the issues caused by workplace harassment affect the victims in harmful ways. Discrimination in the workplace hinders victims from successful advancement in their careers, limiting the capabilities of the victim.
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Workplace Harassment is not just sexual harassment:

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A common misconception about workplace harassment is that workplace harassment is simply sexual harassment in the context of a workplace. While sexual harassment is a prominent form of workplace harassment, it is more than just that. Quoting the US Department of Labor, “It may entail ‘quid pro quo’ harassment, which occurs in cases in which employment decisions or treatment are based on submission to or rejection of unwelcome conduct, typically conduct of a sexual nature. Workplace harassment may also consist of offensive conduct based on one or more of the protected groups above that is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as being fired or demoted).”

Thus, workplace harassment is a bigger category that encompasses sexual harassment.

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Why Does Sexual Harassment Take Place?

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In most of the harassment cases, the wrongdoer takes advantage of the girl’s vulnerability and her fear. The fact that girls don’t open up to their parents about being harassed or abused is fear of jeopardizing their careers and life. This encourages the oppressors and they fearlessly continue with their immoral activities against innocent victims. There have been many cases which are kept hidden and are not brought in front of the court because of the anticipation of losing respect and integrity. A number of women have sadly committed suicide after facing such disgrace.

There are many women who are also unaware of the laws which are made for the protection of their honor and liberty due to lack of education and awareness. This is a major drawback which encourages harassers and oppressors to confidently do their lustful acts without the fear of any legal consequences.

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Pakistani Laws Related To Harassment:

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Here is a list of laws in the constitution of Pakistan that deal with harassment. Further on, we will explain how these work.

How to file a complaint:

(a) Harassment in Public Place

You may register a complaint under section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code, titled ‘Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman’ that states: If you face verbal harassment in public, or harassment through gestures intended to insult your modesty in a public place, you can approach the nearest police station, and register an FIR under section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code. The Offense is punishable with simple imprisonment for up to one year, or with fine of Rs. 500,000, or with both.

(b) Harassment at the Workplace

Harassment at the workplace is dealt with under the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 and Amendment Act, 2012. According to this act the cases of harassment can be reported/submitted to the Ombudsman office or the internal Inquiry Committees of the concerned department.Under the Act, all Provincial and District Government bodies and authorities, including educational and medical institutions, have to constitute Inquiry Committees for harassment at the workplace and display the “Code of Conduct” for protection of women from harassment at the workplace in their office premises.

A Complainant (the person who makes the complaint) has the option to submit a complaint to the Inquiry Committee, or the Ombudsman.

Procedure after filing the complaint:

The Inquiry Committee will inform the accused person that he has been accused of harassment within 3 days of receiving a complaint. If the accused fails to submit his defense within 7 days, the Committee will decide the matter without the accused person.

Under the Act, the Ombudsman has the power of a Civil Court, and can summon the accused, examine him on oath, receive evidence on Affidavits, and enter office premises for the purpose of inspection or investigation. The Inquiry Committee or the Ombudsman can decide the case and penalize the accused for harassment.

If you face harassment at your workplace and wish to register a complaint approach the Inquiry Committee in your office. If the Inquiry Committee does not provide adequate remedies, you can submit a complaint in writing to the Ombudsman.

If you face harassment at your workplace and wish to register a complaint approach the Inquiry Committee in your office. If the Inquiry Committee does not provide adequate remedies, you can submit a complaint in writing to the Ombudsman.

Punishment/Penalty

The Inquiry Committee or Ombudsman can decide the case and penalize the accused for harassment with compulsory retirement; dismissal from service; withholding, for a specific period, promotion or increment; and so forth.

Appeal Procedure

If the Ombudsman does not provide adequate remedies, the victim can approach the Governor of Punjab.

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Role of Employers in Cases of Harassment:

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While the person who sexually harasses someone else is liable for their behavior, employers can also be held responsible for acts of sexual harassment by their employees or agents. Sexual harassment can involve employees, managers, contractors, agents, clients, customers and others connected with or attending a workplace.

The foremost duty of the employers is to hire people bearing good moral character who are not subjected to such an activity during or after work hours.

Display copies of code of conduct

“Employers must display Code Of Coduct of the company; failure to comply is punishable by law.”

Provisions made in the Protection against harassment of women at the workplace Act requires all public and private organizations to adopt an internal Code of Conduct and a complain and appeals mechanism aimed at establishing a safe working environment for working women. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure implementation of this Act. The management shall display copies of Code of Conduct at the conspicuous place in the organization and the workplace. On failure of an employer to comply with this provision the employer shall be liable to fine which may extend to one hundred thousand rupees but shall not be less than twenty-five thousand rupees.

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How Harassment Can Be Prevented:

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Source: Dawn.com

Being a part of a society where sexual harassment is a serious issue, it is imperative to take measures to spread awareness among the female gender as well as the male gender. 68% of the girls are subject to this heinous crime in our country compelling these shattered souls to think of themselves as outcasts of the society. Therefore, protection of such victims and innocent girls is a severe need of the country. There are many steps that can be taken by the State and be implemented on a strict and vigilant level.

  1. The major step is to adopt a clear sexual harassment policy in the workplaces of the country which much be strictly imposed on every person attending the office or that workplace.
  2. Organizations/departments must conduct training sessions for employees. These sessions should teach employees what sexual harassment is, explain that employees have a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment, complaint procedure must be provided, and the employees must be encouraged to use it.
  3. The organizations working for the harassment free conditions of the country must have organized campaigns for the victimized as well as general people in order to provide them awareness regarding their legal and fundamental rights

Though there are numerous laws against sexual harassment and abuse, but still there is a lot more need for more amendments and clear demonstration of the implementation of laws against the oppressors and harassers. Therefore, the state must make more specific and authoritarian laws and rules.

“If you remain silent and hide your problem then nothing going to change. Stand up and speak up for your rights.”

In order to create a safe and sound environment for women/employees at workplace, eradication of all the indecent and offensive sexual exertions and acts is exorbitantly important. The felons and wrongdoers must not be pardoned. They must be punished and penalized in such a way that it becomes an example and warning for the other people having criminal tendencies and guts.

Any woman/girl who is being harassed, she must not keep silent. You must speak up and take legal action against the harasser. Do not fear anyone. If you remain silent and hide your problem then nothing going to change. Stand up and speak up for your rights.

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Mehreen Farhan

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