• Act aimed to provide protection to women against sexual harassment at their workplace
• Provides a mechanism for redressal of complaints of sexual harassment.
• As per the Act “Workplace” includes any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including a dwelling place or a house.
• Employer’s premises is not restricted to the strict perimeters of the office space and could be extended beyond such physical territory.
• Aid of applications like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype etc, working in physical spaces and proximity has taken a backseat.
• raises the question of whether our homes or virtual reality space qualifies the test to be recognised as a ‘workplace’??
• any act of sexual harassment effected virtually in a home working space can be included in the notional definition of a ‘workplace’.
• High Court in its judgement in Saurabh Kumar Mallick v. Comptroller & Auditor General of India, said that:
i) with the advent of computer and internet technology, a person can interact or do business conference with other person while sitting in some other country by means of video-conferencing.
ii) if such an officer indulges into an act of sexual harassment with an employee, it would not be open for him to say that he had not committed the act at workplace, but at his residence and get away with the same.
• In the landmark case Vishaka v. the state of Rajasthan, the High Court observed that the following factors would have bearing on determining whether the act has occurred in the ‘workplace’:
(a) proximity from the place of work;
(b) control of the management over such a place/residence where the working woman is residing; and
(c) such a residence has to be an extension or contiguous part of the working place.
• In the landmark case of Saurashtra Salt Manufacturing Co. V. Bai Valu Raja & Ors, the Supreme Court opined on the applicability of the theory of ‘notional extension’ of the employer’s premises. The theory of notional extension was applicable to an employer’s premises so as to include an area which the workman passes and re-passes in going to and in leaving the actual place of work. It was reasonably concluded that an employer’s premises were not restricted to the strict perimeters of the office space and could be extended beyond such physical territory.
• In the virtual world, there is a thin line between such harassment that may occur in the course of work or employment and that which may be perceived as harassment while operating outside the physical workplace. To conclude this, keeping in mind the dynamic scope of ‘workplace’ as discussed above, the scrutiny of facts and circumstances of any complaint arising in case of employees who are working from home would be necessary to determine whether or not such complaint falls under the purview of the Act.