What Can We Do If We Face Sexual Harassment At The Workplace? What Are Our Options?

The POSH Act covers sexual harassment that is physical, verbal, visual, non-verbal  or psychological in nature. Not just overt touch.

Well! so we even have options?

Let’s start with understanding what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace!

Any unwelcome, uninvited, unwanted behaviour that is sexual in nature, whether direct or implied, can be defined as sexual harassment. I recall the first sexual harassment inquiry I carried out, the Respondent  was glaring at me “I did not even touch her, how can you call this sexual harassment?”

Thankfully, the POSH Act covers sexual harassment that is physical, verbal, visual, non-verbal  or psychological in nature.

Some very common instances are making personal comments, stalking, staring, leering, winking, spreading rumours about character, showing pornography / indecent content through SMS or text or images, taking pictures/ screenshots without consent, insisting on dating, giving a shoulder massage, threatening to punish for not playing along etc.

This article is an effort to share some critical information that you may need if you ever face sexual harassment at work or if you ever see someone being harassed.

Did you know?

What should you do if you a victim?

The POSH Act of 2013 mandates every organization with more than 10 employees to create a safe workplace. And unlike other law’s the POSH Act talks about “prevention, prohibition & redressal”.

  • If we ever spoke up about someone giving us a difficult time. So it is very normal to go down the guilt trip. But try not to, it is not your fault. Behaving decently is always the other person’s responsibility.
  • Keep a log. Maintain notes of the incident mentioning specifics of what happened, where it happened, what was said or done, how did you feel, what did you do, were there any witnesses, did you confide in anyone, etc. This will come in handy if you decide to file a complaint at some point in time.
  • Have a chat with someone you trust at work or at home, It will ease the anxiety and also give clarity on the way forward
  • File a written complaint to the company’s Internal Committee (IC). Even if you file a complaint with your manager or HR or CEO, the final inquiry will be carried out by the IC as mandated by the law. So approaching the IC directly is the best option always, it will reduce the number of people who will get to know about your complaint.
  • Reach out for counseling support if the trauma is bothering you

Did you know?

Get to know the complaint process

You are under no obligation to reveal specifics of the complaint / incident to any of your colleagues or even your own manager. You can approach the IC directly.

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Details by the author Aparna GV

Did you know?

Get to know the redressal mechanism in your company

The IC is a quasi-judicial body with a minimum of 4 members. IT is led by a senior female Presiding Officer. Other members include an external member who is committed to the cause of women and is usually a Subject Matter Expert (SME).

Your company’s IC has the power of a civil court to receive and conduct sexual harassment inquiries!

And with that comes the power to maintain confidentiality and to offer protection against any retaliation. So you can approach the IC without any hesitation or fear.

The IC does not accept anonymous complaints so as to be fair to everyone. It is for the same reason that malicious complaints will be punishable as well.

Did you know?

Why should I trust the IC?

It is just a myth that sexual harassment complaints always result in termination from employment. Depending on the offence the punishment could range from just a warning letter to a transfer or suspension or a penalty or withholding of promotion to termination.

And sometimes there may not even be a full-fledged inquiry. The complainant can choose to go for a conciliation, or in common terms “a settlement”. But monetary settlements aren’t allowed in conciliation under the POSH law.

Since the IC has the power of a civil court, the committee is expected to follow stringent courtroom like procedures while conducting the inquiry. So you can expect the process to be transparent, open and fair without any biases.

And the committee undergoes rigorous training on the topic and about how to conduct a proper legally valid inquiry. Additionally the External Member is present to avoid prejudice and guide the committee to conduct fair and legally compliant proceedings.

So when you file a complaint at least 4 senior folks are watching, doing due diligence, ensuring that there is a fair and thorough inquiry.

What could be some exceptions?

  • If the complaint is against the Employer/ founder/ Board member/ MD or
  • If the company has less than 10 full-time employees
  • The company has not yet formed an IC

In such cases, you could approach the LCC or Local compliance committee constituted by the State government. The LCC has similar powers as that of the IC and the management is answerable to such an inquiry. Specifics of the LCC can be found online on state government websites.

Some more exceptions

  • It is a case of physical assault, battery or rape
  • The Complainant does not trust the organization to give justice and wants to approach the Police directly or approach the Women’s commission or any other authority
  • If your organization is unwilling to hear you out

In the above situations, you can either file a police complaint under the IPC or approach the Labour commissioner or file a case in the court directly. You have the right as a victim to approach any these authoritied even if there is a case inquiry happening with the IC.

Did you know?

The POSH Act (Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (prevention, prohibition, redressal)) is probably the only labour law that has the power to cancel business license in case of non-compliance.

So it is critical that the company constitutes an IC, trains employees and provides fair, just redressal for the sexual harassment complaints made by female employees.

If you are an entrepreneur, create a redressal mechanism so that the workplace you so lovingly created remains a safe place for women. If you are a victim, then raise your voice and reach out to the IC for redressal.

About the writer
The writer is an expert in POSH and is an experienced external member. She can be reached at [email protected] for any questions or clarifications.

Image source: Pexels Free for Canva Pro

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About the Author

Aparna GV, SHRM-SCP (HR, POSH & DEI Expert)

Aparna GV is a Human Resources professional with more than 17 years of experience working in corporates, consulting companies. She is passionate about creating safe, diverse and inclusive workspaces where she can be a nurturer read more...

2 Posts | 600 Views

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