Women play an integral part in developing a balanced and inclusive workplace. With the objective of preventing and protecting women at the workplace and to ensure effective redressal of complaints, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act (POSH Act) was enacted in 2013. Because of this Act, every company is mandated to have a well-documented mechanism to address complaints and offer guidelines to initiate action against any sexual misconduct, thereby creating an environment where every woman feels safe. However, in recent times it has been observed that the very Act enacted for the safety of women has been used by women employees as a weapon to achieve their personal vengeance against their male colleagues and employers.
The protection envisaged under the POSH Act is being misused and abused by women, however the statute has a remedy for the same as the POSH Act includes a specific provision for punishing the complainant for filing of the false or malicious complaint. Section 14 of the POSH Act provides for penalizing the complainant if the complaint is found to be false with malicious intent. Section 14 of the POSH Act read with Rule 10 of the POSH Rules deals with the punishment for filing false or malicious complaints by the complainant or any other person who is involved in the conspiracy of filing a false or malicious complaint or producing false or misleading documents or evidence. Section 14 of the POSH Act clarifies that the mere incapability to substantiate a complaint or failure to provide adequate proof does not invite action.
The same has been observed by the Hon'ble High Courts in India as stated below:
- Anita Suresh Vs Union of India & Others,P (C) 5114/2015: The Hon'ble High Court of Delhi has dismissed a writ petition filed by the complainant and has passed an order directing the petitioner/complainant to pay a fine of INR 50,000 for filing a false complaint and misusing the provisions of the POSH Act.
- Union of India Vs. Reema Srinivasan Iyengar, WP Nos. 10689, 24290 and 4339 of 2019: The Hon'ble High Court of Madras observed that 'Though the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is intended to have equal standing for women in the workplace and to have a cordial workplace in which their dignity and self-respect are protected, it cannot be allowed to be misused by women to harass someone with exaggerated or non-existent allegations.'
The law is clear about the difference between an accusation that is not proved and a complaint that is false or maliciously filed. A complaint filed by the complainant with the knowledge that such a complaint is false or filed with malicious intent should not go unpunished. It is pertinent to note that it is a criminal offense on the part of the management/employer if they fail to take appropriate action against the allegedly aggrieved woman or false witness who takes recourse under the POSH Act as a way out to cover up their transgressions.
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