Law on harassment

Published August 11, 2012

THIS is apropos of the report ‘Nurses exposed to harassment as law remains unenforced’ (Aug 5). The reporter has cited the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010 and stated that its provisions are not complied with by various hospitals in Karachi.

The definition of ‘organization’ given in the Act is quite comprehensive and, besides the healthcare institutions, it includes educational institutes and industrial and commercial establishments.

The above law has come into being due to the consistent and prolonged efforts of Dr Fouzia Saeed of the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment.

However, having dealt with the disciplinary issues in two large multinational companies for three decades, I am of the opinion that the law in its present form is unwieldy and cumbersome. It is also in conflict with the Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, 1968, which is a labour law and provides a detailed procedure on handling of disciplinary matters.

Cases of sexual harassment have been successfully and effectively handled by progressive organisations even before the promulgation of the exclusive law on harassment.

Standing Order 15 of the Ordinance of 1968 describes a number of acts and omissions which constitute misconduct and one of it, ‘act subversive of discipline,’ is wide enough to cover cases of sexual harassment.

The Standing Orders Ordinance prescribes four types of punishment, and any one of them may be given to an employee found guilty of misconduct.

The law on harassment provides four types of minor penalties and five major penalties for committing a breach of the code of conduct under the Act, some of which, such as ‘censure’ and ‘payment of compensation to the complainant’, are superfluous.

Conducting investigation into the complaints of harassment, especially by women employees, is difficult in our culture as they are either reluctant or afraid to repeat their statement or depose in front of an inquiry committee. Nevertheless, they may divulge facts of the incidence in front of a woman investigating officer. If a prima facie case exists against the accused, he may be given punishment according to the gravity of his offence.

The management is supposed to maintain high level of confidentiality while conducting investigation into complaints of sexual harassment.

Draft legislation on Employment and Service Conditions Act, 2009 was released in the same year by the ministry of labour and manpower for review of the stakeholders. In this draft, the following addition to the acts of misconduct was proposed: “Sexual harassment, including any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other verbal or psychological, mental or physical conduct of a sexual nature”.

Had this draft been passed into an Act, it would have covered the cases of sexual harassment as well and there would have been no need for a parallel legislation.

Owing to the sensitivities involved, investigations into complaints of sexual harassment require due care and diligence on the part of the management as any mishandling may shatter the employees’ confidence in the organisation.

PARVEZ RAHIM Karachi

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