Women making false complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace stand to lose their jobs, a new rule has stipulated, putting in a safeguard against potential misuse of the law.
The rule, notified this week, for the sexual harassment at workplace law becomes applicable from Monday.
It has also brought in gender neutrality into the law, as men held guilty of sexual harassment at the workplace also face losing their jobs.
The punishment in earlier laws governing workplace sexual harassment was a grey area.
Under the new rule, if a complaints committee constituted by an employer finds the allegation of sexual harassment to be malicious or based on forged papers, it can recommend action including termination of service against the complainant.
The complaints committee, however, can recommend such action against the complainant only if it malicious intent is proven.
"Not able to substantiate the allegations in the inquiry cannot be the ground for initiating action against the woman complaining," a women and child development ministry official said.
The punishments prescribed by the ministry include written apology, reprimand, withholding of promotion or pay rise, and termination of services — if found guilty of harassment or filing false complaint.
The penalty provision in a way gives a breather to Tehelka's former managing editor Shoma Chaudhury who faced a wave of criticism for having sought a written apology from the magazine's founder, Tarun Tejpal, after a colleague accused him of sexual harassment.
The new rule also provides for an appeal against the verdict of a complaints committee under the Industrial Employment (Standing Order) Act, 1946. The industrial law empowers the government to appoint an appellate authority for private institutions.
Disclosure of any information related to a complainant, witnesses or proceedings of a complaints committee has been made an offence punishable with a fine of Rs. 5,000.
Only the committee's final decision can be disclosed, thereby imposing additional restrictions on seeking information under Right To Information law.
The sexual harassment act clearly says information related to inquiry cannot be provided under the RTI. This is the third area - after the National Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill and National Sports Development Bill - where specific restrictions have been imposed on the RTI.