The Delhi HC has held that jurisdiction of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) established under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, is limited to whether or not allegations of sexual harassment can be proven, it “cannot make comments on the personal conduct of the parties”.
The Single Bench of Justice Pratibha Singh of Delhi HC while delivering a progressive judgment on a writ petition by a female employee of PNB, observed,
“any consensual relationship among adults would not be the concern of the Management or of the ICC, so long as the said relationship does not affect the working and the discipline of the organisation and is not contrary to the Rules or code of conduct binding on the said employees,”
The court also observed in this case of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace that “moral policing is not the job of the management or the ICC“.
A writ petition was filed by a female employee of Punjab National Bank against the General Manager of the bank in Mumbai.
Upon her complaint of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace, the ICC was constituted by the Bank, consisting of 4 members, which concluded that the relationship between the parties was based on mutual consent, and that the allegations of sexual, emotional and mental harassment had not been substantiated by the employee.
Thus, while the complaint of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace against the Manager was rejected, the ICC did not stop there but went on to make observations that the “behaviour of the parties had been inappropriate and unbecoming of Officers/Employees” and therefore, it “recommended the Competent Authority to take suitable action” against both the employee and the General Manager.
As a result of this report, a charge-sheet was issued against the complainant employee under Regulation 6 of the Punjab National Bank Officer Employees’ (Discipline & Appeal) Regulations, 1977, challenging which the employee moved the present writ.
The Court stayed the ICC’s recommendation and the consequent charge-sheet, however, the Bank thereafter held up the employee’s promotion in view of the pendency of the present petition.
The Court thereafter directed the Bank to independently consider the complainant’s candidature for promotion, though the same was to be kept it a sealed cover and not given effect to.
Court’s Observations and Averments by Parties
Appearing for the Bank, Adv Rajesh Kr. Gautam, submitted that the employee was eligible for promotion but with disciplinary proceedings pending against an employee, the Bank was bound to keep the promotion on hold.
Appearing for the employee, Sr. Adv. Vrinda Grover, submitted that the ICC, upon sexual harassment of women at workplace complaint not being made, can merely close the enquiry.
She argued that the recommendation made for taking action due to the alleged “unbecoming” conduct was contrary to Section 13(2) of the Act.
The complainant submitted that she merely prayed for the recommendation made by the ICC to be set aside, and wasn’t challenging the conclusion of the ICC for “personal reasons”.
Ruling in favor of the petitioner complainant, the court held that if the allegations of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace or any other form of harassment, as contemplated under the Act, are not proved before the ICC, the ICC can only recommend the employer to not take any action in the particular matter. “If a case of sexual harassment of woman at workplace is not made out, the ICC can only conclude that no action is required to be taken.
“If a case of sexual harassment of woman at workplace is made out, then the recommendation of the ICC can only be for taking appropriate action for misconduct, in accordance with the provisions of the service rules as contained within Section 13(2) and 13(4) of the Act. It is not contemplated within the provisions of the Act that while holding that no action is to be taken and the complaint is to be rejected, the ICC can direct for suitable action on the ground that the parties have indulged in an inappropriate conduct. Such a determination and consequential recommendation is beyond the jurisdiction of the ICC,” the Court held.