We bring to you a three-part series on the nuances of conducting an Inquiry into a sexual harassment complaint. This edition will provide a commentary on the general guidelines. The subsequent editions will provide further insights.
The Internal Committee (IC) is bound to make an Inquiry into the complaint of sexual harassment upon receipt of the same from the Complainant. The Presiding Officer should convene a meeting with the other members of the IC at the earliest upon the receipt of the Complaint. It is critical to examine the incident reported and form a prima facie opinion as to whether it amounts to Sexual Harassment. Upon concluding that the reported incident amounts to Sexual Harassment, the IC should ensure the Inquiry is conducted and completed within 90 days from the date of receipt of the Complaint.
The Inquiry into the Complaint should be conducted in accordance with the principles of natural justice. The IC should re-iterate the strict confidentiality obligations.
Few other aspects to be kept in mind are –
- Treat all parties with respect.
- Ensure that each IC member demonstrates complete attention to the parties involved.
- Reject set ideas and stereotypes on how the Complainant or Respondent should appear or act.
- Be open to the fact that sexual acts are committed in privacy and eyewitnesses may not be existing or forthcoming.
- Understand that it is difficult for a Complainant to talk about anything sexual. Hence, there can be long time interval between the harassment and the actual complaint. IC may acknowledge the same; however, ensure that they abide by the timelines provided under the statute for conducting the Inquiry.