I was browsing through the internet searching for the work related material and came across an article- “Rise in Virtual Harassment” that got my attention and had this strong urge to reinforce the importance of POSH Policy at workplace especially during the Pandemic phase wherein every thing has taken a back seat. COVID-19 has compelled companies to shift to work from home. At the difficult times like this when people are fighting for their survival, in some cases it has also led to an increase in new set of challenges such as virtual harassment, insecurities, cyber-crime etc.
Women in India are recognised and granted protection under the constitution of India. According to the constitution, when a woman is sexually harassed in the workplace, it violates her right to equality and her right to life. The Ministry of Women and Child Development in India has enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“POSH Act”) to prevent it from happening.
The Aim of this Act is to protect women at the workplace and provide them a safe environment to work in. Sexual Harassment constitute of any unwelcome act or behaviour (direct or implied) such as physical contact or advances, asking for sexual favours, showing pornography, making sexually coloured remarks or any other unwelcoming conduct of sexual nature.
I would like to broaden the term sexual harassment by including what can be construed as virtual harassment- Personal comments on the person’s social media handles, inappropriate emojis and messages, stalking both physical and virtual, threatening about performance ratings, insisting on video calls after office hours, inappropriate jokes, not maintaining a dress code during video conferences and calls and undefined work hours.
The definition of employee under the POSH Act is broad and encompasses persons employed on a temporary, ad-hoc or daily wage basis. The Act doesn’t just protect women who are employees but also protects women who are customers, visitors, vendors, consultants, interns, trainees. The term employer has also been defined in the context of governmental organizations, private sector organizations and households. With regard to the private sector, an employer is understood to mean any person responsible for the management, supervision and control of the workplace, with a further clarification that the person, board or committee responsible for formulation and administration of the policies of an organization would be included under the ambit of ‘management’.
Under the POSH Act, an employer is legally required to comply with certain statutory requirements. One of these is the constitution of an Internal Complaints Committee (“ICC“), a body envisaged to receive complaints on sexual harassment at the workplace from an aggrieved woman, as well as to inquire into and make recommendations to the employer on the action required pursuant to its inquiry of such complaint made. The inquiry has to be completed within 90 days and the final report has to be placed at the Employer’s desk or the District Officer within 10 days after that. As envisaged by the POSH Act, the ICC constitutes a minimum of four members (namely the Presiding Officer, a senior level woman employee from the workplace, the external member and a minimum of two employee members). It is mandatory to have 50% woman as members of the committee. The ICC, shall in every calendar year, prepare and submit, an annual report including, the number of cases filed and their disposal, to the employer, in case there are any incidence of Sexual Harassment at workplace.
In my point of view, with rise in number of sexual harassment cases every year, The POSH Law is a step towards eliminating harassment towards women and emphasizing equal rights in the workplace. The process of redressal should be fair, user-friendly and every employer is charged with the role of ensuring that. It is a woman’s legal right to have a safe workplace to work in.
Effective implementation of the POSH Law is necessary to build a sense of security in the workplace and thus increase the participation of women in all sectors. And all of this is made possible through the POSH training for all its employees (managers, directors, business owners, IC Members, HR-heads, legal professionals) as the Act is of huge importance because it not only paves the way for proper redressal of complaints related to the sexual harassment but it also talks about preventive measures organizations can take to avoid such cases from happening.
It gives employers and employees an insight into what sexual harassment is and how to differentiate it from other non-sexual harassment cases. It prevents someone from being wrongly accused.
The training helps in spreading awareness among working professionals teaching them not only about the law but also the punishments associated with such acts.
Women often do not report the matter due to fear of losing their livelihood, their personal and professional reputation and being stigmatized. But POSH teaches how these situations can be dealt with proper measures.