POSH as legal recourse against sexual harassment at workplace

“…A society that fails to harness the energy and creativity of its women is at a huge disadvantage in the modern world.” –  Tian Wei.

Every woman in every organization must have her rights to be protected including a safe working environment. The POSH Act, India, asks all employers to comply to a set of measures to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment at the workplace. Under the POSH Act it is required by all organizations more than ten employees to become POSH compliant.

The first step to this endeavour is to draft and circulate an organizational policy that explains acceptable code of conduct towards its women employees, its stance against sexual harassment of women and the responsibility of each employee to ensure decorum towards their female colleagues is maintained. To ensure that all points are accurate and in sync with the POSH Law enacted by the Government, an organization can get their POSH policies drafted by a lawyer.

Additionally, to ensure that POSH norms are being followed within the organization, it is advisable to prepare POSH posters with a document easily accessible or pinned to workplace bulletin boards as a reminder of the internal POSH policy of the organization towards women employees.

POSH Act further requires organizations to complete POSH training for all their employees including training in procedures for a complaint and inquiry, and the action to be taken thereof. POSH training aims at educating employees and management on steps to avoid sexual harassment of women at the workplace and about the law governing sexual harassment so that such situations can be prevented from occurring.

The next step towards safeguarding women employees and thus following POSH norms, is to set up an Internal Committee (IC) with a presiding officer, necessarily a senior female employee, two Internal Members with adequate legal experience in the cause of women and an External Member working with an NGO or someone associated with social causes for women. It is mandatory for an External Member to possess the required qualifications to address the issue. The Internal Committee is directed by POSH to address any such reported instances of sexual harassment or complaints from distressed women within a period of 90 days post along with a report prepared by the External Member including action taken by the organization to redress the complaint. POSH Act grants IC the powers similar to that of a Civil Court to inquire into a sexual harassment case and therefore the IC must carefully ensure that justice is adequately delivered failing which the matter can be taken up in higher courts.

A woman sexually harassed by any employee is within her rights to file an official Police complaint and the Internal Committee at the same time. Additionally, if the harasser is a third-party, the Internal Committee does not have the necessary jurisdiction to interfere in the same, but in such cases it is the employer’s responsibility to support the aggrieved lady in filing a complaint with the police.

Lastly to track that Company’s POSH norms are being maintained and followed by all organizations, it is mandatory for employers to prepare and submit an annual POSH report to the local District Officer. Non-Compliance to POSH Act can cost the company not only its reputation and loss of talented women employees but also in terms of penalties up to Rs.50,000 for loss of dignity and further cost in lakhs to compensate the said employee for loss of employment.

As the saying goes “a stitch in time saves nine”, a POSH compliant company free of harassment goes a long way in boosting an employee’s morale and also maintaining its reputation.

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