Employee Safety from Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Do female employees in your company feel safe while working? Read how the implementation of POSH can ensure woman employee safety at the workplace.


Anita works in a well-known firm in India. One day, her boss, Rohit, sends her inappropriate messages in the middle of the night. Anita was shocked but decided to keep quiet. The next day, he calls her to his cabin and keeps touching her inappropriately while explaining the marketing brief. Anita feels uncomfortable but still stays quiet. Gradually Rohit starts pressuring her for sexual favours in return for promoting her to a new role. Rita works in an IT firm. Her male colleagues always talk about inappropriate topics about girls on the lunch table and tea breaks. They often exchange obscene videos on their common WhatsApp group. Rita feels uncomfortable but being the only girl on the team, she decides to stay quiet and never complains. Do these incidents fall under sexual harassment? How should we ensure employee safety in such working atmospheres?

Women Employee Safety from Sexual Harassment at workplace and POSH

The Indian legislature formed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, commonly known as the POSH act, in 2013. The act was drafted to ensure female employee safety in workplaces safe from sexual harassment. The act also made employers responsible for preventing, prohibiting, and offering redressal towards any act of sexual harassment. 

The POSH Act defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexually tinted behaviour, whether directly or by implication, such as:

(i) Physical contact and advances,

(ii) Demand or request for sexual favours,

(iii) Making sexually coloured remarks,

(iv)Showing pornography, or

(v) Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.”

The act further defines the quid pro quo type of sexual harassment. The above-stated example of Rohit and Anita is a classic example of a quid pro quo type of sexual harassment where a person of power pressurizes a woman employee for a sexual favour in return for favours/advancement at the workplace. Know that the POSH Act applies to organized and unorganized sectors in India, including public, private, and government sectors. 

Women Employee Safety from Sexual Harassment at workplace and POSH

The Indian legislature formed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, commonly known as the POSH act, in 2013. The act was drafted to ensure female employee safety in workplaces safe from sexual harassment. The act also made employers responsible for preventing, prohibiting, and offering redressal towards any act of sexual harassment. 

The POSH Act defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexually tinted behaviour, whether directly or by implication, such as:

(i) Physical contact and advances,

(ii) Demand or request for sexual favours,

(iii) Making sexually coloured remarks,

(iv)Showing pornography, or

(v) Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.”

The act further defines the quid pro quo type of sexual harassment. The above-stated example of Rohit and Anita is a classic example of a quid pro quo type of sexual harassment where a person of power pressurizes a woman employee for a sexual favour in return for favours/advancement at the workplace. Know that the POSH Act applies to organized and unorganized sectors in India, including public, private, and government sectors. 

What is the workplace?

The POSH acts safeguard sexual harassment at the workplace. But what is a workplace in its real sense? The POSH Act defines the workplace clearly. As defined by Section 2(o) workplace is defined as:

  1. Any department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office, branch or unit which is established, owned, controlled, or funded by either the Government, a local authority (such as a Municipal Corporation), a Government Corporation, or a Government-run co-operative society.

  2. Any private-sector organisation, private venture, undertaking, enterprise, institution, establishment, society, trust, NGO, or a service provider that carries out commercial, professional, vocational, educational, entertainment, industrial, financial or health-related activities.

3. Hospitals and nursing homes.

4. Sports institutes, stadiums, sports complexes, and competition venues that may be used for training, sports, or any other related activities.

5. Any place visited by an employee arising out of during the course of their employment. This includes any transportation service provided by the employer for visiting any such place.

6. A house or any domestic dwelling.

7. Any enterprise, commonly said to belong to the unorganized sector, which is owned by individuals or self-employed workers and engaged in the production of sale of goods or services

‘‘

If she feels sexually harassed ,your intention is irrelevant.

What does POSH include?

The act includes situations like:

  • Physical contact and advances
  • Demand or request for sexual favours
  • Showing pornography
  • Any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual 

The POSH Act ensures all women employee safety from sexual harassments regardless of whether:

i.They are employed regularly, temporary, ad hoc, or daily wage basis.

ii.They are employed directly or through an agent or a contractor.

iii. They are employed with or without the knowledge of the principal employer.

iv.They are employed for remuneration or on a voluntary basis.

v.The terms of employment are expressed or implied.

The Act also applies to women contract workers, probationers, trainees, apprentices, and interns. 

A brief background to POSH

 On 22 September 1992, Bhanwari Devi, a woman working under the Women’s Development Project run by the Government of Rajasthan, was gang-raped by a group of men as an act of vengeance because she protested an illegal act of child marriage. Following the event, there was a delay in doing a medical examination or making a police complaint. In short, justice was delayed. In the pursuit of seeking justice, many women activists’ groups supported Bhanwari Devi. A Public Interest Litigation was filed by a women’s organization known as Vishaka that focused on the enforcement of the fundamental rights of the women at the workplace and employee safety under the provision of Article 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court of India acknowledged it, and the Vishaka guidelines were formed that were treated as law declared under Article 141 on the Indian Constitution. These guidelines served as the foundation of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013. 

Why is it mandatory to have woman employee safety in the workplace?

POSH is mandatory to have in the workplace for employee safety from sexual harassment. Whether you’re an individual, partnership, or company, you cannot miss having POSH at the workplace. Therefore, irrespective of the nature and number of employees, it is mandatory to have at the workplace. 

Non-compliance with the POSH Act can cost a monetary penalty for an employer. Repeated non-compliance can lead you to twice the punishment, cancelation of license, withdrawal, or nonrenewal of business license by the local government. Additionally, it may cost the reputation of your business.

The Companies (Accounts) Rules, 2014 have been amended to mandate the disclosure regarding the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (POSH laws) in the Director’s report of every company.

Companies commemorated for best POSH practices and employee safety

Ever since the POSH act was formed, organisations have been becoming aware of the POSH act and its necessity at the workplace. With the growing number of women in the workforce and the increasing frequency of sexual harassment at the organization, employers are adapting some of the best practices to ensure women employee safety. Some organizations have gone beyond the POSH act requirements to give a safe place to work for which they have been commemorated. 

Some of the organisations that have taken exemplary measures in implementing POSH at the workplace and got commemorated for their efforts are: Robert Bosch Engineering, AstraZeneca, 63 Moons Technologies, Tata power company, Siemens, Healthineers, RapidValue solutions and so on. 

POSH training and best practices

Having a POSH policy at the workplace is not just enough. You need to train your employees and managers to be aware of the POSH policy, the implication, and how to raise a complaint should there be any incidence of sexual harassment. Apart from regular training, here are some of the best practices that you can implement at your workplace to prevent sexual harassment:

Offer sexual awareness training in the regional language if you have a lesser educated employee base like contract employees to ensure they understand the importance and implications of it. 

Popular and well-accepted movies like the Bollywood movie “PINK” can be shown to the employees during training. You can also enact or do scripted roleplays during training to help the audience identify dos and don’ts at the workplace regarding sexual harassment. 

Roadshows are equally popular for conducting POSH training. These can include games, quizzes, panel discussions, and more. A top-IT firm created a video entry competition among its employees on sexual harassment theme. It is a great way to let people learn the POSH policies while positively engaging the employees. 

Books help too, especially for managers who have subordinates working under them. So, consider giving books like BCC: Behind Closed Cubicles to your managers. 

Exclusive training to managers also helps in the long run to understand and implement the POSH policies. 

Only training is not adequate. You also need to understand how safe your women employees feel at work. Conducting anonymous surveys help to understand the pulse of the employees. Having an online or on phone helpline by a third-party vendor encourages employees to report a violation. “Women only interventions” help women employees open up and speak about the harassment at the workplace. 

Decoding the POSH act for employee safety- What companies need to know

Now that you understand that you need to be POSH compliant for your business, let’s see how you can be POSH compliant and what actions you need to take. 

Having a committee for redressal of complaints

Every organisation with more than ten employees needs to have a mandatory Internal Complaints Committee to address and redress any complaint related to sexual harassment. Even if the organisation does not have women employees, having an ICC is compulsory. For organisations that have less than ten employees, all sexual harassment complaints are to be made with the local complaints committee set by the district magistrate. 

Draft a POSH policy

Draft a POSH policy for your organisation with the help of your corporate lawyer. Have a clause included that specifies the repercussion on the employee should they indulge in any such Act. The repercussion could be the termination of a job or wage loss. 

Include the POSH policy in your Annual Report

If you need to do the Annual report for your company, ensure you have the POSH policy and reports included in your report. It should consist of your company POSH policy, how many cases were registered in the year, and the investigation reports. 

‘‘

First rule of self-defense is: Don't ask your attacker for validation.

- Barbara Dee, Author of May Be He Just Likes You

#METOO Movement and POSH

In India, the #METOO movement started in 2018. Women took on to social media to voice their experience with sexual harassment. From celebrity women to ordinary citizens, everyone joined the raging roar on social media during the movement. The most significant outcome of the movement was that women who felt sceptical or afraid to raise their voices against their predators, joined the movement too. Many well-known and celebrity women joined the movement as well that gave more strength and courage to the women across the country. As a result, organisations now have no choice but to wake up and listen to their employees and redress should there be an event of sexual harassment because now they know that women can voice their complains on social media which will only tarnish the reputation of the organisation. 

The movement provided courage to hundreds of women who were wary of complaining. The movement saw an increase in complaints by almost 14-15% in 2018-2019. The movement brought in awareness among the mass, while companies stirred to take POSH more seriously. As a result, companies have started doing the due diligence of their senior employees, encouraged self-reporting, giving training to their employees, having internal committees in place, etc. While the #METOO movement has shaken up organisations, we need not wait for another movement to irradicate sexual harassment from the workplace. A great way to combat sexual harassment and ensure employee safety is to have gender equality in the workplace while educating and training every employee. 

Chayanika Sen
Chayanika Sen
Over a decade of experience in Corporate Communication Chayanika writes on Human Resources, Recruitment, Marketing, Employer Branding and Thought Leadership.

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