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Laws Regarding Sexual Harassment in Workplace

A Comprehensive Guide in Regards to Sexual Harassment Laws in Bangladesh | Prepared by Sarjean Rahman , Junior Partner @ FM Associates, A Leading Law Firm in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Sexual Harassment Laws in Bangladesh
When a person says no, it means no, prolonging it even with good faith may constitute sexual harassment liabilities.

The matter related to sexual harassment laws in Bangladesh has been addressed in this articles. 
In Bangladesh, women are suffering sexual harassment in workplaces. It is necessary to have a women-friendly working environment in Bangladesh and Bangladesh Labour laws introduced a specific provision regarding prevention of sexual harassment in workplace for women in 2022 by amending Bangladesh Labour Rules 2015. Bangladesh Labour Rules 2015 (as amended in 2022) has been effective from September 2022. Women’s participation in every sector including government and no government jobs and educational institutions has been increased. Women are facing various problems such as sexual harassment, discrimination etc. In order to ensure a harassment-free working environment in the private sectors, Bangladesh Labour Rules introduced Rule 361 KA under Bangladesh Labour Rules 2015 (as amended in 2022).

Under Rule 361 KA of the Bangladesh Labour Rules, Sexual Harassment for women includes -

  • Unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as physical contact and advances.
  • Attempts or efforts to establish physical relation having sexual implication by abuse of administrative, authoritative or professional powers.
  • Sexually coloured verbal representation.
  • Demand or request for sexual favours
  • Showing pornography.
  • Sexually coloured remark or gesture.
  • Indecent gesture, teasing through abusive language, stalking, joking having sexual implication.
  • Insult through letters, telephone calls, cell phone calls, SMS, e-mails, social media, photo, notice, cartoon, writing on chair-table, bench, notice board, walls of office, factory, classroom and washroom having sexual implication.
  • Taking still or video photographs for the purpose of blackmailing and character assassination.
  • Preventing participation in sports, cultural, organizational and academic activities on the ground of sex and/or for the purpose of sexual harassment.
  • Making love proposal and exerting pressure or posing threats in case of refusal to love proposal.
  • Attempt to establish sexual relation by intimidation, deception or false assurance.

Procedure to Investigating Sexual Harassment in Workplace

Under islamic laws of divorces procedures for muslim's in Bangladesh can be very confusing if not a proper step by step guide has not been mentioned. Marriage under Islamic law is not an indissoluble and permanent bond and the parties may dissolve the marriage by the approved methodologies provided by the shariah. The policy of Islamic law is that a marriage may be terminated for a genuine reason.

Rule 361 KA (2) stipulates that in case of investigation regarding sexual harassment of the concerned woman, the concerned authority of the organization shall constitute a Complaint Committee to receive complaints, conduct investigations and to make recommendations. The Complaints Committee shall be comprised of a minimum of 5 members of whom the majority shall be women. The head of the Committee shall be a woman.

Rule 361 KA (3) stipulates that a complain Box shall be preserved at a visible place in all offices and the complainant may drop her complain into this Box. Provided that the Complain Box shall be opened and examined by any member of the complaint committee/responsible officer and if any complain found, the complaint shall be deemed as received on the date of receipt. Every institution is required to prepare its own guidelines for prevention of sexual harassment in workplace for women.

Rule 361 KA of the Bangladesh Labour Rules 2015 (as amended in 2022) is the reflection of the High Court Division's Landmark guidelines on Sexual Harassment in Bangladesh. High Court Division of the Supreme Court issued a set of guidelines which defined sexual harassment in workplace . High Court directed the government to enact a law on the basis of the guidelines and also ruled that the guidelines will be treated as a law until the law is enacted by the government.

How Court Process for Sexual Harassment Cases and What Needs To Be Done

The hon’ble High court directed the concerned institutions to form a five-member harassment complaint committee headed by a woman at every institution to investigate allegations of harassment of women. According to the rule, majority of the committee members must be women. The concerned committee will examine complaints from women if they are subjected to any mental, physical or sexual harassment, and recommend to the authorities to take disciplinary action against the accused persons. 

It is necessary to point out that the rules regarding sexual harassment under Bangladesh Labour laws do not cover the sexual harassment of men in workplace. In my opinion, there should be a gender-neutral definition of sexual harassment that would extend legal protection to any person who is subjected to this crime. The provision -Rule 361 KA should apply both to men and women. The law should be equally applicable both to men and women for prevention of sexual harassment in workplace. Hence, this Rule-361 KA should be amended to reflect a gender-neutral definition of sexual harassment in workplace. 

In Conclusion it can be said that introducing sexual harassment laws for women in workplace has been a useful and important step in the journey towards a better modern Labour law. However, definition of sexual harassment should cover both men and women in workplace. All the institutions in private sectors should ensure that the rules and punishment related to sexual violence and harassment are applied effectively to ensure harassment-free working environment. In order to promote awareness regarding this issue, various training sessions, seminars, conference etc. can be carried out in the institutions, widespread publicity campaigns can be launched for making female workers aware of their rights.