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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Corporates run for cover against ‘pro-women’ Sexual harassment Bill

Corporates run for cover against ‘pro-women’ Sexual harassment Bill: Men feel it is loaded against them as even the RTI Act cannot be used to seek information on false allegations and misuse.
Also, punishment for false complaint is not ‘mandatory but discretionary’. Meanwhile, companies scurry to insure themselves against harassment complaints

December 23, 2010

The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill 2010 is yet to become a law. But corporate houses in Bangalore are already running scared of it.

Women are indispensable at workplace, say corporates. Neither can they be segregated from male colleagues

Explaining the apprehension of the corporates, HR consultant Ashwin Sundar told Bangalore Mirror, “Companies fear that they will have to change the way they operate if such a law comes into force. So, they are securing themselves financially by taking out insurance cover against complaints of sexual harassment.”
A consultant of Marsh India Insurance Brokers said, “Almost every listed IT company in Bangalore has an Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) cover. EPLI also covers claims on sexual harassment. There has been a recent spurt in enquiries on EPLI. Once the new law is in place, it will increase awareness about this stand-alone insurance policy.
However, the limits of this insurance policy can only be gauged after the law comes into force, and claims are made.”
As of now, the average liability limit of an EPLI ranges between Rs 10 crore and Rs 15 crore, and the highest known is of Rs 50 crore. The insurance covers companies, their directors, officers and employees against complaints of wrongful act.
Wrongful act includes harassment, sexual or otherwise, and discrimination on the basis of gender, race or creed. Policy words may vary from company to company, and not all insurance companies offer the EPLI, another Marsh India consultant said.

PREMIUM NOT UNIFORMThough there is a spurt in the demand for EPLI, insurance providers do not have specific premia. Even in the case of two companies opting for a similar liability limit the premium each will be paying might vary. Reason: Many issues are factored, such as the number of employees, their geographical spread and the business of the corporate entity. Firms which have offices and employ people in the West, as well as those which generally employ younger people, will pay a higher premium.
“Such claims are more rampant in the West, and it is perceived that younger people get involved in wrongful acts more,” said the vice-president (marketing) of a private insurance company.
A Marsh India consultant said, “As of now there is no thumb-rule for premium. It is expected that the new law on sexual harassment at workplace would bring in some clarity.”

Corporate advocate S Mahesh said that there were fears that the new law would hamper the recruitment of women. “Some corporates are scared. From whatever they have gathered from news reports, they feel that the law is too strong for a conducive work atmosphere. There are talks like, Men will lose jobs even if they look at women. The perception out there is many corporates will think twice before hiring women,” he said.
Karnataka High Court advocate Susheela S dismissed the view. “It is a foolish apprehension among some corporate houses. Segregating men and women at workplace or completely ignoring women for jobs is highly impossible. Women are indispensable at work place in this age. Men should not be scared of this law as action can be taken only if harassment is proved,” she said.

“In dowry cases, only married men are falsely accused. Here even unmarried men will suffer the same ordeal,” Kumar Jahgirdar, a city-based social activist for gender neutral laws, said.
“The Union law ministry should first ensure that there are enough fast-track courts to deal with such cases. For the pain undergone in the process of law can be worse than the punishment itself.”
Shiva Kumar, management consultant, Sandilla, said, “As of now, no one has asked us to stop scouting for women employees, though the Bill has led to a lot of discussion in the corporate world. Scenarios of separate wings for men and women cannot be contemplated. Women now are indispensable in the workforce. But there is fear about the misuse of the law.”
Jahgirdar has pretty much the same fears. “Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code is being misused rampantly in dowry-related cases. Husbands and their family members are falsely accused of cruelty. The new law has all the ingredients for similar misuse,” he said.

No right to info
»The Bill is not gender neutral. Those opposing it say that it violates Article 15 of the Constitution which prohibits gender discrimination. They argue that women can commit the same crime of sexual harassment against men
»Special provisions in the Bill (Section 14 and Section 15) says that the RTI Act cannot be used to seek information on false allegations and misuse. Only successful and genuine cases will be opened to the media. False cases will be kept out of public knowledge
»Section 8 (1) of the Bill provides for settlement of the matter between the complainant woman and the respondent through conciliation. It can be done on the woman’s request. But the settlement in other terms could only mean extortion, say naysayers. Monetary payments would lead to abuse as those in the committee would try to make money
»Section 12(1) of the Bill says that if a complaint turns out to be false, it would be left to the committee to recommend action against the woman complainant. This means that punishment for false complaint is not mandatory but discretionary. Members of the committee will include external NGOs, whose sole criterion is to be committed to the cause of the women. So, there may not be any punishment for false complaint
»The term ‘sexual harassment’ itself is not defined in the Bill.

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