Safety Measures for Female Employee’s Night Shifts

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Like many other countries, India is witnessing a significant rise in the number of women entering the workforce and taking up diverse roles across various industries. While this represents a positive shift towards gender equality and economic empowerment, it also requires addressing safety concerns for female employees, particularly during night shifts. 

In India, where safety issues concerning women are prevalent, it becomes even more critical for employers and society to prioritise the protection of female employees during late working hours. 

The Safety Challenges for Female Employees during Night Shifts in India

India, a country with a rich cultural heritage, is also grappling with various social issues, including gender-based violence and harassment. Some of the unique safety challenges that female employees face during night shifts in India include:

  • Safety on Public Transport: The lack of safe and reliable public transportation during late hours exposes female employees to potential risks while commuting to and from work.
  • Isolation and Harassment: Working during the night often means fewer co-workers and reduced public presence, leading to a sense of isolation that can make female employees more susceptible to harassment or violence.
  • Safety on Roads and Streets: Poorly lit streets and inadequate security measures in some areas can pose significant threats to the safety of women travelling alone at night.
  • Cultural Stigma: In some conservative regions, women working late shifts may face social stigma, discouraging them from seeking help or reporting incidents.
  • Limited Support Services: Access to emergency services and medical facilities may be restricted during the late hours, making it challenging for female employees to seek assistance when needed.

Relevant Laws for Safety Measures for Female Employee’s Night Shifts

The Indian laws pertaining to women employees’ safety during night shifts primarily focus on providing a secure working environment. The key legislations governing this aspect are the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and the Shops and Establishments (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1961.

The Constitution of India, under Article 14, guarantees the right to equality and a discrimination-free environment. This fundamental right precedes any other provisions that might lead to discrimination against women. As a result, Section 66(1)(b) of the Factories Act, 1948, which imposed a general restriction on employing women on night shifts, was declared ultra-vires in K.S. Triveni v. Union of India, Ministry of Labour. The provision was deemed unconstitutional and struck down in the case of R. Vasantha v. Union of India in the year 2000.

The prohibition on employing women during night shifts was questioned even before Independence, as seen in the case of Ram Chand v. Mathura Chand. The court held that an inspector could not issue a general prohibition on women’s employment at night without considering whether the staffing was sufficient. It was clarified that allowing a woman to work during night shifts is at the inspector’s discretion, but a general prohibition is not permissible.

Under the Factories Act of 1948, Section 87 prohibits women from engaging in dangerous operations or specified manufacturing processes. However, this provision cannot be considered discriminatory as it considers women’s medical and physical competencies and their value of life.

Apart from ensuring safety within the workplace, the safety of women employees during night shifts also involves securing their routes to and from the workplace. The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act, 2013 was enacted to create a safe work environment. It outlines the employer’s duties under Section 19 to prevent sexual harassment. 

The act also mandates the establishment of an internal complaints committee (under Section 4) to address the grievances of harassed women workers. It allows women to file complaints against their harassers (under Section 9). The act provides for paid leave of up to 3 months to the aggrieved women and allows for the transfer of either the harassed woman or the harasser to another workplace (under Section 12).

In specific regions, women’s employment during night shifts is restricted by state-specific laws. For instance, Section 14 of the Delhi Shops and Commercial Establishment Act, 1954, prohibits women from working between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. during the summer and between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. during the winter. However, regulations may vary from state to state. 

For example, The Punjab Shops and Commercial Establishments Act of 1958 prohibits women’s employment during night shifts. Nevertheless, the Haryana Government recently, through a notification on June 7, 2022, has imposed certain conditions on employers with women employees working during night shifts (between 07:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.).

Essential Safety Measures for Female Employees During Night Shifts in India

The important safety measures for female employees during night shifts include:

Secure Transportation Options

Providing secure transportation options is crucial for the safety of female employees during night shifts. Employers should arrange for reliable and well-monitored transport services, such as company-provided cabs or shuttle services, ensuring female employees can commute to and from work without fear.

Safe Drop-Off Points

Ensure that the drop-off points for transportation are located in well-lit and secure areas. This will help minimise the risks associated with commuting to their homes after work, especially for female employees travelling to areas with limited public safety measures.

Mandatory Buddy System

Encourage implementing a buddy system, where female employees are required to work in pairs during night shifts. This enhances their safety and creates a sense of mutual support among co-workers.

Robust Security Measures

Employers should invest in robust security measures, including CCTV cameras, access control systems and security personnel, to monitor and secure the workplace premises during night hours. Regular patrols by security staff can act as a deterrent to potential wrongdoers.

Self-Defense Training

Offer self-defence training programs to female employees, empowering them with the skills and confidence to protect themselves in potentially threatening situations.

Emergency Response Protocols

Establish clear and efficient emergency response protocols, including immediate reporting and incident response. Educate employees on reporting harassment, violence, or other safety concerns without fear of retaliation.

Zero Tolerance Policy

Implement a strict zero-tolerance policy against harassment and violence in the workplace. Encourage a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting such incidents and ensure prompt action is taken against perpetrators.

Regular Safety Audits

Conduct regular safety audits of the workplace to identify and address potential safety hazards and vulnerabilities. Involve employees in this process to gather feedback and insights into the effectiveness of existing safety measures.

Women’s Helpline and Support Services

Provide information about helpline numbers and support services available to women in case of emergencies. Collaborate with local authorities and NGOs to ensure female employees can access immediate help when required.

Final Thoughts

The safety and security of female employees during night shifts in India should be a top priority for employers and society. By adopting and implementing the essential safety measures, employers can create a secure working environment where female employees can thrive and contribute to the workforce without fear or hindrance. 

Moreover, fostering a culture of gender equality and safety in the workplace will not only protect female employees but also contribute to the overall growth and progress of the nation. It is time for India to take significant strides in ensuring that the workplace becomes a safe and inclusive space for all employees, irrespective of gender or working hours.

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