There are laws in place that protect women against workplace sexual harassment. Still, most women who face sexual harassment do not report it.
The primary reason why sexual harassment cases go unreported is that women fear it may have adverse consequences at work. Women often tend to believe that reporting an incident of sexual harassment will jeopardize their career and they might lose their job altogether. Sexual harassment victims also choose to stay silent because they are made to believe that they are responsible in some manner, for the harassment. This happens because women often do not know what the law is, what it mandates and how it can be used to put an end to the suffering.
If your male colleague politely asks you out for dinner, it is not harassment. But if he insists, or creates a hostile work environment for you, after your refusal,then this behaviour amounts to sexual harassment!
What to do if you Have been Sexually Harassed?
Understanding the PoSH law is a crucial step towards standing up against workplace harassment. If you do a quick google search, you will find out that sexual harassment refers to any unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. It is important to understand what amounts to sexual harassment and what does not. For instance, even inappropriate or constant staring, that you often do not pay significant attention to, can amount to sexual harassment according to the PoSH law.
If you are sexually harassed, you can file a complaint with the Internal Committee of your company, as is required by Indian law. If you are not comfortable filing a written complaint, then you should have a discussion with your manager or your HR representative, as appropriate, who can guide you on the best way to proceed.
How can your Organization Help if you have been Sexually Harassed?
The POSH law has now made it compulsory for organizations to have an Internal Committee working towards the prevention of sexual harassment. Presence of the Internal Committee in your organization makes battling sexual harassment easier.
Any female employee who has or is experiencing sexual harassment can file a written complaint to the Internal Committee. The POSH law requires this to be done within a period of 3 months from the date of the last incident. The Internal Committee has the power to extend the time limit for filing a complaint by an additional 3 months, that is up to a total of six months from the date when the incident took place. Your complaint can also be reported to the Internal Committee through another employee on your behalf. This employee has to be familiar with the incident of sexual harassment.
The Internal Committee then will have to complete the entire inquiry within 3 months.
What does the PoSH Law Offer to the Aggrieved Woman?
As an interim measure, the Internal Committee may recommend-
- Transfer – The Internal Committee closely investigates the filed complaint and can transfer the respondent to another section of the department as deemed fit by the committee. The committee can also transfer the aggrieved women to another department on her request. The committee can further restrain the respondent from exercising any administrative authority or supervision or academic evaluation of the aggrieved woman, pending the final recommendation.
- Leave – Sexual harassment can mentally and physically affect the aggrieved woman. For this reason, the Internal Committee can grant leave up to a period of three months. It can also grant such other relief to the aggrieved woman as the case may require.
At the end of the inquiry, if the Internal Committee finds the respondent guilty of sexual harassment, then in addition to other forms of punishment, which includes termination of employment, reduction of grade or pay, counselling or community service etc it shall also award compensation to the complainant.
- Compensation – In cases of mental trauma, pain, physical injuries, loss in career opportunities, and medical assistance, the Internal Committee can award the aggrieved woman compensation which must be paid by the respondent and can be deducted from the respondent’s salary.
Measures to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual advances in the workplace can be prevented if you are aware of its consequences and its procedures.
- Presence of Internal Committee – Constituting an Internal Committee gives you a redressal forum, if you have been sexually harassed. If you don’t already have an Internal Committee in your organization, you can request your employer to constitute one as it is required by the law.
- Awareness programs – Awareness programs are conducted to educate the employees and the management about workplace sexual harassment. You can request your employer toconduct training sessions as they sensitize employees with respect to sexual harassment. Rainmaker’s WorkSafe is an online sensitization module that helps employees in identifying harassment and understanding the legal consequences of sexual harassment.
If the organization is aware of the legal consequences it will have to face if it is not in compliance with the law on sexual harassment, it will take the appropriate steps required to be in compliance with the law.
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