The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was enacted in order to help ensure a safe and inclusive workplace for women in India.
The rules therein known as POSH laws are wide-ranging as the laws are meant to protect every possible working woman across the country.
The aim of the legislation is to ensure that any woman working at any organisation has access to a forum to seek redressal if she is faced with an issue of sexual harassment.
Therefore, every person who in a supervisory position at an organisation or is part of the management regardless the industry, number of persons employed and the nature of business (profitable versus non-profit) must comply with POSH laws.
Compliance to POSH laws can be broadly categorised into three categories–
- mechanisms for redressal of sexual harassment;
- monitoring compliance.
Mechanisms for redressal
The POSH laws require that a separate committee be set up that will exclusively examine complaints related to sexual harassment at workplace.
- In a workplace having over 10 employees (i.e., persons associated with the organisation in any possible capacity), such committees called the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) must be set up internally.
- In organisations with fewer than 10 employees, complaints related to sexual harassment must be registered with the local complaints committee set up by the district collector or the district magistrate at each district level.
- The ICCs must be set up at each of the offices, branches or administrative units run by the company.
The ICC must be composed of at least four members, and at least one of them should be a senior woman employee employed at the workplace/or belonging any other organisation if the workplace does not have a senior woman employee.
It should also comprise two employees at the workplace who are experienced in social work. One of the members can be an external appointment, such as someone associated with an NGO, a social worker, or someone familiar with issues/laws relating to sexual harassment.
Despite being an internal body, the ICC, will need to function like a civil court while dealing with complaints of sexual harassment at workplace.
All organisations must adopt an anti-sexual harassment policy that highlights its zero-tolerance position to sexual misconduct.
The policy must include basic facts like
- who must comply with the policy;
- what constitutes sexual harassment,
- what are the dos and don’ts when dealing with sexual harassment at workplace, and
- who should be approached in case a person has a complaint.
As the policy will not be effective if employees are not aware of the ICC / members of ICC in case of a complaint, there must be communication to inform the employees of the same.
Training has been emphasised in the policy, particularly since workplace culture in India is still evolving. Boundaries of professional conduct must be made clear to pre-empt occurrence of sexual harassment due to ignorance.
The POSH laws mandate training for all employees on workplace sexual harassment through awareness programmes and workshops .
The POSH laws require an annual return to be filed by each employer which covers the status and details of compliance with the laws.
Such an annual return must be filed every calendar year and should be submitted to the district officer mandated in each state. In several states, the deputy commissioner of labour has been notified as the district officer.
External filings allow external monitoring of the status and extent of compliance by each organisation.
A few months ago, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India (Ministry), launched the Sexual Harassment Electronic Box (SHe Box) Online Complaint Management System.
This online system allows an employee to make an online complaint of sexual harassment at workplace. With the use of SHe Box, the Ministry aims to help aggrieved women by providing them with a platform to interact with the Ministry and seek assured/timely response. It also allows the Ministry to monitor the status of sexual harassment complaints, and their progress, along with a channel to address delinquent employers.
The legislation and the focus on its enforcement are firm steps being taken by the authorities to tackle workplace harassment. In recent years, the courts have issued ruling on various issues that relate to the interpretation and implementation of POSH laws, in order to ensure the objective of the laws to provide a safe and positive workplace for women is met.
Such a burden can be best discharged by the constitution of a balanced ICC within organisations .
Appointing an external member who is approachable , proactive, and knowledgeable can make all the difference in difficult situations, helping to bring neutrality in conflict resolution, and also help in effective navigation of the enquiry process.