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Mental Harassment at Workplace: Laws in India

Creating a safe and supportive environment in today's professional world is nearly impossible. As being employees, we dedicate half of our lives to our professional careers, and it is very necessary that we should feel respected, protected, valued and celebrated within our workplace. Mental harassment at work place can stop an individual growth and ability to thrive. It can also effect the well being of the employees working in such an environment.

Sexual Harassment is a widely used term and is known by all while mental harassment is still something in our society which is rarely talked about. In general, whenever we talk about harassment it can be easily understood as an unwelcoming action of one person causing humiliation to the other one who is the victim of that behaviour. Mental Harassment cannot only be in the form of words it can be anything in the form of gestures, actions and if we talk about harassment at workplace it can occur in different scenarios like giving less opportunity or giving no acknowledgement to the person who deserves that.

Given below are some of the examples of mental harassment in office:
  • Any derogatory remarks over someone's religion, sex, caste, race, etc.
  • Defaming any employee causing wrongful damage to the reputation of an employee which results in mental agony of an employee.
  • Passing negative remarks over different political beliefs.
  • Comments over sexual orientation.
  • Not recognizing someone's work and degrading someone's efforts all the time.
  • Sexual remarks.
  • Stalking.
  • Non-payment of wages.
  • Being targeted for no reason.
  • Bullying.
  • Yelling at the employees without any reason and proper guidance to them.
  • Hostile workplace.
  • Cyber bullying, such as sharing inappropriate images and malicious emails.
  • Unnecessary pressure.
These are just some examples and the list doesn't ends here and eventually it force an employee to succumb to depression and anxiety due to toxic workplace.

So can we prevent Mental Harassment at Work Place?
A supportive work environment is essential in preventing mental harassment. Organisations can organise different sessions on workplace ethics and can educate the employees what is an acceptable behaviour. There should be a transparent grievance redressal mechanism encourages employees to report any such incident without the fear of retaliation. Open communication should be encouraged. There should be an open environment where diversity should be valued by everyone

How can we file a complaint against Mental Harassment?
In India, mental health is something that is taken very casually and mostly ignored by the masses which are the biggest reason of suicides in the country. It's the right time that people should start talking about the mental harassment being faced by them at their respective work places. If you are someone who is currently dealing with the same situation and is under pressure of any authority you are working under it's your time to raise voice against the wrong being committed against you.

Don't be the victim of mental harassment raise your voice against it. The source of workplace harassment laws could be central or state legislation or the office manual for any such event. There are various statutory laws which any company incorporated with employees has to follow. Timely wages, genuine working hours, bonuses, insurance should be there in any company. Apart from being an employee the Constitution of India, 1950 guarantees certain rights upholding basic dignity of an individual through various Articles 14, 15,19,21,39A etc. Article 39A particularly upholds the principle of equal pay for equal work.
  • IPC Sections for Mental Harassment at Workplace- As per law there are no direct provisions under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 addressing workplace harassment. But there are other IPC sections which can be invoked by the employees if the acts are similar. For instance, Section 499 (defamation) punishes for slander or libel through words said or written gestures, etc also there are provisions for hurt and grievous hurt depending upon the injury caused.
  • Sections 354 and 509 specially deal with the facts that harm the modesty of woman through provocative words, gestures or assault.
  • Section 509 punishes the intentional use of abusive language against another that is meant to disrupt the peace.
  • Section 506 of the Act punishes criminal intimidation.
  • While there are no direct provisions dealing with mental harassment in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and Industrial Employment but they prescribe guidelines that should be adhered to for the fair treatment of employees and a healthy workplace, such as number of hours of work, sudden termination etc. the violation of these provisions may led to mental harassment of any employee.

Where Can I Complain About Mental Harassment at Work?
After getting educated about the law against the mental harassment in the workplace in India, A person must report the harassment at work place by the boss or the co-workers as per the rules regulated by the organisation. A complaint letter to the Human Resources department may usually help. If in any case there is no help coming from that side too the corporate lawyers in India may assist the victims legally. The solution on how to write a letter of a mental harassment complaint to HR is that it should address the right personnel and contain all the details of the repetitive incident, including evidence too if possible.

Under the Sexual Harassment of women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, a local Complaints Committee (LCC) If there are less than 10 employees or an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) if there are more than 10 employees, is mandatory to address complaints of sexual harassment which includes behaviours that cause mental harassment. Employees who experience mental harassment, such as derogatory remarks, verbal abuse, or other forms of behaviour creating a hostile work environment, can report such incidents to the LCC or ICC. They should maintain confidentiality and provide a safe platform for employees to report grievances.

Any person who is suffering from such behaviour can also report the same to police and if police take things as petty issue and doesn't lodge the complaint, of workplace harassment victims must reach out to the magistrate.

Prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and redressal) Act, 2013 is the legislation that protects women from sexual harassment at the workplace. The provisions of the Indian Penal Code suggest punishment for sexual harassment, which is up to three years imprisonment with or without fine.

It is pertinent to note that it is mandatory for every organisation to maintain an internal committee having more than 10 employees, for the aid and benefit of the victims of sexual harassment. The said committee must comprise a senior woman as a member, one non-governmental member, and two other employees as members.
  • Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan: This is a landmark judgement which led to the enactment of the POSH Act. The Supreme Court held that Sexual Harassment at workplace violates a woman's fundamental right to equality and right to life and liberty.
  • Poornima Advani vs. Union of India: This case held that POSH Act applies to government organisations, and that the government must ensure that all its offices and workplaces have Internal Complaints Committees in place to address complaints of sexual harassment.
  • Sanchayni Sharma vs. National Insurance Company Ltd: In this case, the Delhi High Court held that Sexual Harassment need not be physical in nature and can also include verbal or non-verbal conduct, such as unwelcome advances, comments or gestures.
  • Madhu vs. State of Kerala: In this case, the Supreme Court held that Sexual harassment need not be proved beyond reasonable doubt and can be established on the basis of a preponderance of probabilities.

To conclude, I suggest that one should always raise his/ her voice against Harassment of any nature. Power Harassment is dominating the work culture everywhere. The harassers are exercising their power by bullying a victim who is lower in rank on the office hierarchy. A healthy, positive, and harassment-free workplace eradicates toxicity and helps in employee engagement and increased productivity. Thus, you must make sure your workplace does not encourage harassment and discrimination towards anyone. Say 'No' to this un welcoming behaviour.

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