The Breakthrough Voice 16th January, 2015

When Romance Becomes Sexual Harassment At The Workplace.

Working in close proximity with opposite sex may help the employees to learn working with differences of viewpoints. Co-ed working environments enhance respect for opposite sex and help to breakdown gender stereotypes. But it can have its own repercussions. Light hearted jokes can sometimes turn to dangerous liaisons. Romance in office with colleague, superior or subordinate may not necessarily lead to wedding bells but it can result in a lot of troubles. There is a very thin line between light heart romance and sexual harassment. Often friendly behaviour by a female employee is construed as a welcome to sexual advancements by the co-workers.

My cousin who had been trying hard to get into a prestigious firm when finally got the opportunity to work in that firm did not have a very good experience. Initially, things were good, her colleagues and superiors were very supportive but as the time passed, her manager would pat her back on the pretext of acknowledging her work. He started finding out opportunities to get physically friendly with her. Because of the efforts she made for getting this job, she was compelled to keep mum to save her job.

But when the things went beyond her level of tolerance, she finally had to report to higher authorities. Immediate action was taken against the manager and my cousin got relieved. But, poetic justice is not available in all cases. Often people just keep quiet and wait for such things to die natural death. This silence is construed as consent. Some of the firms do not encourage office romance in order to curtail the liability. These firms have strict policies against office romance as individuals get carried away and forget their limits.

Sexual harassment at workplace may lead to decreased work performance, being objectified and humiliated by gossip and scrutiny by co- employees, loss of trust in similar places where the harassment had taken place, firing or refusal to job opportunities leads to loss of career and income and above all personal stress and physical impairment. The need of the hour is to be aware about the rights and report such incidents to competent authorities as soon as possible. Before 2012, India did not have any legislation to deal with cases of sexual harassment at workplace and followed Vishakha guideline issued by the Supreme Court in Vishakha v. state of Rajasthan. In 2012, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) Bill has been passed. Now, the question is effective implementation of this bill in the cases of sexual harassment.

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