The Indian government introduced the much-needed POSH Act to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace. Before we discuss sexual harassment, it is crucial to know and understand what harassment means. Accordingly, any physical or verbal conduct that exhibits contempt or hostility or aversion for a colleague due to:
- Religious views
- Or age
All of these are typical grounds that lead to acts that can constitute harassment. Typically, harassment has the following characteristics:
- It is intended to or results in a work environment that is intimidating or hostile, or offensive.
- It is intended to or results in interfering with an employee’s work performance without adequate grounds.
- It harms an employee’s employment opportunities.
The following types of conduct all fall under the purview of harassing behaviour:
- Threats, hostile or intimidating acts
- Negative stereotyping
- Even jokes and pranks that show hostility for an employee on any of the mentioned grounds are considered harassment.
- Circulating written or graphic matter with the same intention or effect in the workplace and its electronic mediums is harassment.
In case of any complaint, another employee of the same sex as the reported victim is consulted. Their subjective opinion overrides the objective views on the “harassing” nature of a supposed harassing act.
There is a distinct difference between sexual harassment and other types of harassing conduct. Sexual harassment, again, can be of different types.
What Makes For Sexually Harassing Conduct?
There is a wide variety of sex-related conduct like requesting sexual favours, unwarranted sexual advances. Both verbal or physical activity may be counted as harassment when:
- It makes submission necessary to stay employed, get a job, or enhance prospects at the workplace.
- Or if the conduct is sexual and affects work performance or helps create a hostile, intimidating or outright offensive work environment.
Some critical facts to keep in mind about sexual harassment is:
- It is gender-neutral— men too may fall victims to sexual harassment, the harasser and the victim may be of the same sex. There is legal precedence for the latter.
- People other than the victim can bring a complaint about offending behaviour.
- The location of the offending action can be while at work or an event sponsored by the company.
- The involved parties may be peers, supervisors or managers, other officials, or even third-party customers or suppliers who misbehave with an employee.
Types of Sexual Harassment
There are several forms of sexual harassment. These include:
- Quid pro quo harassment- It is the “this for that” type of sexual advance. It may be direct and indirect and typically involves asking for a sexual favour in exchange for work-related benefits. The harasser must be higher placed and be in authority for such a type of offending action.
- Creating a hostile work environment through sex-related conduct
Actions or comments related to sex or gender that interfere with an employee to do their work or affects their work environment negatively are also sexual harassment. Both co-workers and higher placed officials can indulge in this type of sexual harassment. Males are vulnerable to such harassment too. The teasing and the sheer torment that many males face due to their love life and appearance can affect them significantly.
Keep in mind that there is a legal precedent ruling for employer responsibility for third parties also. If you can control such sexually offending behaviour, you must do everything in your power to stop it.
Now that you are aware of what harassment is and the different faces in which it manifests itself, it is time to turn to what you can do for prevention.
Handling and Preventing Harassment
India put a relevant legal regulation in place to address the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. “The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal),” commonly referred to as the POSH Act and rules, 2013 superseded the preceding Vishakha Guidelines in 1997 by the Indian Supreme Court. As the full name of the legal provision suggests, it intends to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment at the office. Taking a bolder vision of its function, the POSH Act aims to root out such conduct entirely from offices by including non-employees as well in its purview. While all women at the workplace get legal protection with POSH, male employees are still left to take a critical view. We must remember that males are often harassed to the point of torment, especially in the early years of their careers. Therefore, POSH makes it mandatory for all employers to implement a set of measures to achieve the stated goal of “preventing, prohibiting and providing redressal” of sexual harassment issues.
Steps Businesses Need to Take
- Frame a definite policy
the first step businesses must take to comply with the POSH Act is to frame an appropriate POSH policy for their organization. This policy will spell out organizational stand on the issue. Such policies must necessarily be detailed and clearly state acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It further must define sexual harassment and the shared responsibilities of all employees in this regard. Additionally, the complaint mechanism must be precise along with suitable penalties. The policy must clarify that it prohibits misconduct that constitutes harassment, mainly if it’s sexual. Such misconduct amounts to a breach of service rules, according to POSH. All employees must be aware of the policy and must be easily accessible. It must be drafted in a straightforward and easy-to-understand language.
- Create an appropriate Internal Committee or IC
The corporate body that will manage sexual harassment complaints is termed the Internal Committee if the employer has more than or equal to ten employees. Committee members must include:
- A senior female employee as the presiding officer.
- It must also have two internal members or employees who preferably have previous social work experience, women’s upliftment or legal knowledge.
- An unbiased external member must be an NGO member or part of an association dedicated to female causes or highly aware of sexual harassment issues.
As per the regulation, the designated IC must accept and redress issues within 90 days of a complaint of sexual harassment. The specifics of the IC hold sway over all businesses, and an improperly formed IC is subject to judicial scrutiny.
- Put up POSH posters at prominent locations within the organization premises
The lawmakers wanted that employers take every step to increase sexual harassment awareness. Therefore, one necessary obligation under the Act is that firm must put up POSH posters at prominent locations with the premises of a particular organization. Along with them, employers might put up other employer-related posters with relevant messages. Further, firms are also required to display IC orders at conspicuous locations.
- Hold awareness and training sessions
In addition to the above steps, an employee must also train and sensitize employees about harassment, particularly sexual harassment. Employees must be aware of what constitutes sexually harassing conduct and how POSH is framed. Further, organizations must also ensure that redressal and the complaint process are known to all employees. Accurate POSH training will help employers prevent legal implications besides cutting down on sexually harassing behaviour.
- Provide Adequate Cooperation and help for completion of inquiry
Such cooperation is mandatory for all inquiry components necessary to complete an inquiry accurately. It, in turn, consists of:
Cooperating with the IC- The employers are legally obliged to help the IC in any manner possible for it to conduct a fair and just inquiry into a sexual harassment complaint. The organization must facilitate complainant, respondent and witness attendance for every inquiry session.
Submit relevant information as requested by the IC- Upon completing the inquiry, the POSH Act makes it mandatory for the IC to submit the same results. It must also recommend suitable action against the guilty if it is the findings. The IC needs to submit the same as an Inquiry Report to the employing organization. The law further requires the organization to act according to the IC’s recommendations.
- Cooperate with the local committee (LC)
Organizations with less than ten or more employees must submit themselves to the decision of the LC, which will be set up in every district. The LC comes into the picture if the employer himself is the accused. Another ground for turning to an LC is if the worker belongs to the unorganized sector. Employer responsibilities hold ground for both IC and LC.
- Help the victim in filing police compliant
Women employees are free to pursue a complaint with the police in addition to the IC. Further, suppose the erring party is outside the jurisdiction of the employer. In that case, the latter must provide all possible assistance in lodging a formal complaint with the police.
- Prepare an annual POSH compliance report
The enacted law intends to help the government track POSH compliance through an annual report. Section 21 of the Act stipulates the:
“Committee to submit an annual report.— (1) The Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, shall in each calendar year prepare, in such form and at such time as may be prescribed, an annual report and submit the same to the employer and the District Officer.”
I hope this was helpful to you in ensuring a safer and better workplace for all women!