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Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace – Rules, Penalties & Compliance

What is PoSH Law?

A law to prevent and to provide protection against, Sexual Harassment of women at the workplace as well as redressal of complaints of Sexual Harassment.

Sexual Harassment violates the fundamental rights of a woman to equality under Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India and her right to life and to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution and right to practice any profession, which includes a right to a safe environment free from Sexual Harassment.

Sexual Harassment at the workplace is a horrific violation of an individual’s rights.

What is PoSH training?

What is sexual harassment in the office? Can texting or a casual touch at lunch make you a Sexual Harassment offender? Can reporting harassment make me lose my job?

These are some of the common questions that employees are either unaware of or too afraid to ask. At the same time, organizations don’t have the requisite training or processes to ensure Prevention of Sexual Harassment.

To provide a safe and gender-neutral work environment, an organization’s employees, managers & directors need to be educated on what is and isn’t sexual harassment under PoSH training. For instance, sexual harassment isn’t only limited to its most obvious form such as making inappropriate advances. It can also include unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that creates a hostile work environment. Also, it is not limited to the office space only, but can go beyond within the work environment.

PoSH training allows you to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate workplace behavior and educates you on the definition & consequences under the PoSH Act.

The training can be done both online through video courses or via in-person workshops.

PoSH training is required to:

  1. familiarize all employees with the applicable legal framework and best practices at work
  2. sensitize managers towards gender equality due to the inherent nature of power differences
  3. train the Internal Committee (IC) on how to handle complaints and resolve conflicts

If you or your organization is interested in becoming PoSH compliant, please contact us for a free consultation.

What is the Sexual Harassment Act of 2013?

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 makes it illegal to sexually harass women in the workplace. It talks about the different ways in which someone can be sexually harassed and how they can complain about this kind of behavior.

In 2002, Phaneesh Murthy (Director, Infosys) was accused of Sexual Harassment by his executive secretary.[1]

In 2012, an employee working at a restaurant at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, filed a case of Sexual Harassment against a senior Air India official.[2]

In 2013, Tarun Tejpal, a senior journalist & editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine was accused and charged for sexual assault on a young staff member during “Think Fest” – their annual conclave.[3]

Later in the year, A.K Ganguly, a judge of the Supreme Court was accused of Sexual Harassment by an intern in New Delhi.[4]

These are just a few major cases that came into the spotlight on Sexual Harassment. Several other organizations like Wipro, Uber and most recently, TVF (Online Media Streaming Company) have been castigated by the media and subsequently, the public.[5]

What does "Sexual Harassment" include?

“Sexual Harassment” includes unwelcome sexual behaviour, whether directly or by implication, such as :

  1. Physical contact and advances
  2. Demand or request for sexual favors
  3. Making sexually colored remarks
  4. Showing pornography, or
  5. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature

What is the need of PoSH law?

A survey (EY & Deloitte) was carried out at BPOs, IT sector offices and at various educational institutes, hospitals, and legal firms. 6,047 people participated in the survey – 78% were males and the remaining females.

  • It was found that 38% of women had faced Sexual Harassment at the workplace
  • Of these, 68.9% said they refrained from making a complaint due to fear, embarrassment and lack of confidence
  • When questioned about legal protection, 42.2% said they did not feel protected at work

Fear and lack of confidence in the organization leads to low job satisfaction, decrease in productivity and ultimately results in the organization losing valuable employees along with a declining workplace culture.

Origin & History of the PoSH law?

Sexual Harassment was made a criminal offence in 2013. After the landmark Vishakha judgement (1997), the Government did not really make any attempts to rectify the situation. Until, they were rapped on the knuckles by the Supreme Court in Medha Kotwal Lele Vs. Union of India (2013).

The current PoSH Law was passed only after the SC passed strictures against the Government for not enacting a law to protect women at the workplace from Sexual Harassment.

The requirement to give legislative sanctity to the Vishakha Guidelines as well as the need to provide a more comprehensive and robust framework around the burning issue of Sexual Harassment at the workplace, led to the Parliament enacting the PoSH Law.

India’s first comprehensive legislation specifically addressing the issue of harassment at work – The PoSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace) Law was formulated with the core objective of protecting employees against Sexual Harassment and promising a safe, secure and dignified working environment for them.

The number of cases continues to grow exponentially. As many as 1,971 cases of Sexual Harassment of women at the workplace were registered in four years till December 2017. Cases reported increased by 45% from 2014 to 2017.

Major Provisions in the PoSH law?

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, came into force in 2013. “An Act to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and in matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”. Its jurisdiction extends to the whole of India.

Defining workplace under the law

The term “workplace” in the Act includes any department, organization, undertaking, owned, controlled or managed by the government as well as any private sector organization or a private venture, undertaking, enterprise and institution.

The Act covers any/every place visited by the employee during the course of employment including transportation. Even non-traditional workplaces which involve telecommuting and virtual spaces are covered under the law.

This Act is for any woman who is harassed in any workplace. It is not necessary for the woman to be working at the workplace in which she is harassed. A workplace can be any office, whether government or private.

What is the extent of the law?

The law provides that every employer with more than 10 employees must constitute an Internal Committee (IC) within the organization to handle complaints of Sexual Harassment.

Both organized and unorganized sectors are covered by this Act and non-compliance of any directives will lead to consequences.

Behaviour defined as Sexual Harassment Includes

  1. Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in employment
  2. Implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in employment
  3. Implied or explicit threat about the present or future employment

The Posh Law is wide enough to include sexual blackmail, which has unfortunately become a common practice today.

What does the law mandate?

For Employers

As per Section 4 of the Act, every company with 10 or more employees must constitute an Internal Committee (IC). This Committee must include:

  1. A Presiding Officer appointed from Senior Management (must be a woman)
  2. One external member from amongst non-governmental organizations or a lawyer
  3. At least two members representing the employees of the organization.

It is essential that at least one-half of the total members so nominated shall be women. All complaints shall be made to this body which must resolve every issue impartially.

For Employees

All employees of the organization must undergo sensitization training each year, as the entire emphasis of the law is on prevention of Sexual Harassment.

Irrespective of the intention of the accused or the level of impact, every incident has to be taken seriously and investigated by the IC.

Even a single instance of forwarding an indecent joke or picture on social media platforms can trigger a complaint.

The Act requires employers to conduct education and sensitization programmes and develop policies against Sexual Harassment, among other obligations.

Get PoSH training for employees?

Contact us for online training, awareness workshops & IC orientation

Penalties on failure to comply?

Failure to comply with this could lead to hefty penalties. Some of the provisions under the PoSH Law include:

  1. When the employer fails to constitute an Internal Committee or breaches provisions of this Act or any rules made thereunder, they shall be punishable with fine of fifty thousand rupees (INR 50,000).
  2. If any employer, after having been previously convicted of an offence punishable under this Act, subsequently commits and is convicted of the same offense, he shall be liable to twice the punishment.
  3. Extended penalties shall be
    • Cancellation or withdrawal of his license.
    • Non-renewal, or cancellation of the registration.

Consequences of non-compliance

Offences under the PoSH Law are not just illegal but can prove fatal as well.

  1. Once booked under the law, the image and goodwill of the organization in question gets tarnished beyond repair
  2. Adversely affects the growth & reputation of the organization

A company in Chennai, where a woman complained of Sexual Harassment, was fined Rs. 1.68 Crores for its failure to comply with the law. The law is clear. Non-compliance can invite trouble for the management. They even face charges of abetment to the crime and criminal prosecution.

Stakeholders in Prevention of Sexual Harassment

Building systems and processes that regulate the anti-sexual harassment guidelines internally convey the picture of a more mature organization. It is the responsibility of the management of every organization, to ensure absolute compliance with this law.

Human Resource Manager

Ensuring a safe and secure work environment for all its employees and gender sensitization is the responsibility of HR. PoSH training and sensitization is the first step in this regard.

Sensitization and compliance can help improve employee productivity and consequently the output.

Employees

Reports (by EY & Deloitte) concluded that the implementation of such policies helps incentivize employees and makes them feel a more inclusive part of the organization.

Awareness about laws mandated for employee safety gives them peace of mind and encourages them to work better.

Senior Management

The top management is responsible for maintaining the priorities & public image of the company. A sound policy helps assure employees, potential clients, and vendors as it evokes a feeling of trust and respect with regard to the organization.

Rainmaker Worksafe EEM

What is required to be PoSH compliant?

Ensure implementation of

  1. PoSH policy
  2. Sensitisation of all employees
  3. Formation of Internal Committee (IC)
  4. Training of IC on investigation procedure, confidentiality, timelines, the format of reports etc
  5. Mandatory external member, who ensures fairness, neutrality, right steps for implementation of PoSH policy
  6. Filing of the annual report to appropriate authorities and PoSH compliance to be part of Director’s report.

Benefits of conducting PoSH training

  1. Higher job satisfaction and employee engagement
  2. Higher productivity and collaboration among employees
  3. Higher retention of valuable employees and talent
  4. Improvement in workplace culture
  5. Respect for colleagues
It is not difficult to create an environment that is protected, warm, friendly and safe; it just requires focus and attention. The most effective weapon against Sexual Harassment is awareness.

What is WorkSafe?

WorkSafe™ is an interactive training module produced by Rainmaker© that transforms boring compliance training into an engaging and interesting learning experience. These programs are tailored to meet the needs of organizations.
At Rainmaker, we are committed to ensuring that companies understand the provisions made under the PoSH law and the full scope of its implications in order to ensure compliance with the law and awareness among employees.

Harassment does not disappear on its own. In fact, if not addressed, the harassment will worsen and become more difficult to remedy as time goes on.


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Grab december's free poster

PoSH Law requires employers to conspicuously display Anti-Sexual Harassment posters in common areas. Download a free poster every month, this one's on us.