In case of sexual harassment at workplace Service Rule should be followed: Karnataka High Court

The Karnataka High Court ruled that case of a complaint of sexual harassment at workplace, the employer has to follow the Service Rules, if in place, to impose any major penalties like dismissal.

A report by the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) formed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (Act) can in such an event, serve as a fact-finding report but cannot be the sole basis for dismissal.

The petition wad filed by Arabi U who was a 60-year-old professor in the Department of Economics, Mangalore University, against whom sexual allegations were made to which this judgement was passed.

A complaint was lodged by student with the State and National Commission for Women against him when he was functioning as chairman of Department of Economics in April, 2018.

When the university didn’t received response from him, it placed placed the complaint for enquiry before the ICC constituted under the Act where ICC found him guilty of the allegations and this led to present petition.

It was submitted by the petitioner that the show cause notice was issued based on the report of ICC, without holding any inquiry as required under the Service Rules.

Moreover, the penalty of dismissal can be imposed only after following the procedure under the Service Rules.

By referring to Section 19(i) of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, the Court said that the employer has a duty to treat sexual harassment as a misconduct under the service rules and initiate action for such misconduct.

The court also pointed out that the order of termination passed on the basis of ICC report are illegal and a regular enquiry or a departmental action as per the service rules is indispensable.

Furthermore, since there was no inquiry as contemplated under the Service Rules was ever initiated against the petitioner, the decision to impose penalty of dismissal on the petitioner was an act without jurisdiction.

Hence the court said that the petitioner did have a right to approach this court.

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