Gagged over ‘workplace’ sexual harassment

November 7, 2010

Written by Nirad Mudur

In a few years, or sooner, I — and all male employees, for that matter —better fear the workplace. A Bill titled ‘Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill-2010’ may turn into law, threatening to freeze all communication with women employees, rendering office functions a very difficult proposition to deal with. The result can be imagined as any organisation minus effective communication is a doomed venture, and all know that.
Now, why should we fear?
This is why: “What angles are you exploring?”; “What position would you like?”; “Are you free?”; “Why not discuss it over lunch?”; “Can we do it together?”; or a “Let him hand-hold you on this one”, can all be seen as loaded with verbal sexual gestures inviting the wrath of the intended law-to-be. Almost anything uttered could be seen as sexually tainted if a woman wants to ‘get even’ with a male colleague for reasons other than the professional.
A male colleague, therefore, can’t even bypass the verbal relay by resorting to emailing messages because the end-result could be the same; worse, it could mean sexual harassment through a cyber medium for all to see.
The problem is that genuine offenders indulging in sexual harassment of their women colleagues almost always cloak their words with phrases appearing to be harmless, which makes it all the more probable that really innocent remarks are viewed as sexually tainted.
This could be enough to inhibit the hapless men to put a dead halt on all communication with their women colleagues in a time when gender equality should be the example to be set and clear-cut communication — and its implementation — should be the harbinger of a company’s success.
Although the intended law is a civil law which does not carry penal provision like jail terms, if a male colleague is found guilty of indulging in even verbal sexual overtures which puts his female colleague in discomfort, it’s enough to put him away from the job for good. The clauses in the Bill suggest dismissal, demotion and heavy fines, not to mention the social implications surrounding it.
But “found guilty” is a dicey thing to prove in such cases wherein the really guilty parties can still get away saying “I didn’t mean it that way at all…I meant this, instead”.
In reality, of course, the hardcore professionals take all these things in their stride while focusing on their work in the interest of their respective companies’ performances.
But still, there could be the odd woman or man playing truant while using the clauses and their loopholes in the Act — if the Bill does turn into one.
Sexual harassment at the workplace can be effectively dealt with by junior women employees seeking guidance and strength from their senior women colleagues.
Actually, the Union government could have done well to protect women as well as men from sexual harassment, because — just like in adam-teasing — no one rushes to help a sexually harassed male colleague, who turns into a butt of jokes.
That’s a sad fact of life.

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