Breaking it Down

Breaking it Down: Geo News Sexual Harassment Case

Farhat Javed is an employee of Geo News and had brought a complaint of sexual harassment against a colleague in the Islamabad office. After an internal investigation, the responsible committee decided that harassment had taken place, and ‘let (him) off’ with a warning. Following this, she decided to appeal to the Federal Ombudsman on Sexual Harassment.

Read on to learn about what the Ombudsan ruled, and what we think is worrisome about the ruling.

Harassment and Complaints: How it Works

Harassment has been defined under Section 2(h) of the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 as:

” …any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request or is made a condition for employment..

When an employer receives a complaint, it has to form an Inquiry Committee to investigate the matter (under section 3 of the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010). The Inquiry Committee must make a decision about the complaint.

If the complainant wants to appeal the decision, they may do so at the Federal Ombudsman for Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace. An ombudsman is a person appointed by the government or parliament charged with addressing concerns of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of administrative abuse or maldaministration within organizations or bureaucracies. In order to effectively fulfill this duty, they have a significant degree of independence.

An employee may also take their complaint directly to the Ombudsman.

Breakdown of the Harassment Case at Geo:
  1. The judge ruled that harassment took place as well as character assassination. This was ruled both by the company’s initial internal investigation and by the judge: “We cannot (sic)ignored the fact that act of harassment and sexual harassment is more and more developing in our society and in this environment ladies engaged in field work.”
  2. Chaudhry tried to make the claim that Farhat Javed could not appeal Geo’s internal decision because the inquiry committee had already found him at fault and reprimanded him. Appealing, he claimed, was an attempt to ‘double punish’ him. The judge rejected this because, legally, anyone can file an appeal if they feel that the decision has been rendered incorrectly.
  3. He tried to use her previous friendships with male colleagues gone awry to delegitimize her complaint. Chaudhry’s team cited another claim filed by the complainant when she worked in Dunya TV suggesting that she had a history of accusing male friends of harassment.
  4. But the judge rules in her favor here, too: The ombudsman, though conceding that a previous friendship seemed to have existed between the the complainant and opponent, agreed that she was harassed, and that her previous complaint against a Dunya TV employee seemed genuine because those persons were terminated from employment.
  5. However, the judge disagrees that an inquiry committee has to ‘punish’ the offender. She believes that a warning and reprimand can suffice. She says that the purpose of the act is to create a “healthy” working environment, and that warnings and reprimands can be enough to do this.
  6. She further rules that the complainant’s application to study abroad should be considered, and she should go abroad to study so as to limit their interaction.
The Problem with the Ruling: 
  1. Most immediately, the offender was found guilty of sexually harassing a woman and yet received the minor penalty of a warning. Neither the Inquiry Committee nor the ombudsman considered imposing other minor penalties detailed in the Act, such as issuing a direction for him to pay compensation or withholding for some time a promotion or increment. Instead, he was promoted soon after the conclusion of the inquiry. While this may prevent him from committing further acts of harassment, his presence in the office puts the women who currently work with him at risk.
  2. The  ombusdman’s decision in holding that a warning and letter of apology made to the complainant would be sufficient to resolve the issue roundly ignores that the offender’s promotion threatens to make the work environment even more dangerous for the complainant. The offender was promoted to the most senior position in the newsroom right after his inquiry. He was already threatening to use his position to make work harder for her if she didn’t acquiesce to his demands. With his higher position now, he could hurt her far more gravely.
  3. Importantly, by suggesting the complainant go abroad to study, the judge neatly avoids having to dole out any serious punishment to the offender, while also putting the onus on the victim’s removal from her work environment to avoid further distress. This despite the fact that he was found guilty of sexual harassment.

You can read the Ombudsman’s decision regarding the case of Farhat Javed (the complainant) versus Arshad Waheed Chaudhry (the opponent) here.

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