The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013 was passed in the parliament with the sole objective of making workplaces safe for women. The Bill takes up the definition of ‘Sexual Harassment’, details its consequences for the harasser as well as for the organization and lays down various institutional mechanisms for prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment.
As per the provisions of The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment Act, 2013, all companies having more than 10 employees, whether in Public or Private sector, are to form an Internal Committee for prevention and redressal of complaints received under the said Act.
What is an Internal Committee?
An internal committee is an important mechanism to mitigate risks of sexual harassment at workplace (SHW). Various provisions contained in POSH Act have empowered the internal committees which have the authority to inquire into complaints or incidents of sexual harassment at workplace.
Who will constitute the Internal Committee?
Every employer of a workplace shall constitute by an order in writing, a Committee to be known as the Internal Committee (IC) as per Section 4(1) of the POSH Act.
Provided that where the offices or administrative units of the workplace are located at different places or divisional or sub-divisional level, the Internal Committee shall be constituted at all administrative units or offices.
Composition of Internal Committee.
It is required for the internal committee to consist of a minimum of four members:
- The committee must be headed by a woman employee of senior level in the company.
- Along with the Head of the committee, a minimum of two employees has to be part of that committee. It is preferable to have such employees who are committed to the cause of women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge.
- An external member (who has worked in the field of social work or the one committed to the cause of women, such as Counsel Quest)
- It is absolutely essential that at least one-half of the members of the committee must be women.
- The Act requires a committee to be set up in every office of an organization rather than a single committee for a whole business with multiple offices.
Responsibilities of the committee
The key responsibilities of the committee include but not limited to:
- Conducting orientation and awareness sessions for employees on sexual harassment.
- Clearly communicating the company’s policy on sexual harassment and providing a detailed framework for prevention and redress processes.
- Widely publicizing the names and contact details of the Committee member and the members of the Local Committee.
- Ensuring a fair selection of committee members and contribute to their skill-building.
- Filing an annual report which includes details such as the number of cases filed and the number pending or disposed of by the IC.
Governing sexual harassment cases at workplace
- An aggrieved woman can file a written complaint to the committee within three months from the date of the incident.
- The committee should inquire about the complaints received in a time-bound and confidential manner and report the findings of the inquiry to the employer within three months of receiving the complaint.
- It is the committee’s responsibility to recommend action for misconduct in the form of sexual harassment in accordance with the POSH Act. The Committee cannot issue a report without recommendation.
- The employer is required to act on the recommendations of the IC within 60 days. When non-compliance of the Act by the employer is proven, it may lead to a fine of fifty thousand rupees and further can account for cancellation or withdrawal of their license.
- The Act strictly prohibits the publication of the identity of the aggrieved woman, respondent, and witnesses along with the contents of the complaint and its inquiry proceedings/recommendations, with the exception of the details of the justice that should be secured to any victim.
It is to be noted that the Act covers any (or) every place visited by a female employee during the course of her employment with the company which includes the transportation facilities provided by the employer. Moreover, non-conventional workplaces such as virtual spaces are also covered under the law.
Even though the Act is in force since 2013, the widespread awareness among the female workforce regarding the consequences of sexual harassment and redressal against the same is sadly limited. The successful implementation of the POSH Act across each industry would not only create an environment where women can speak up boldly about their grievances and get justice but also sensitize men towards the rightful treatment of women at the workplace.
As we progress as a developing nation, it is absolutely essential for organizations and workplaces of any scale to stay abreast of the changes effected by modern development, and encourage work environments that are free of all forms of discrimination, driven solely by merit. The POSH Act is one giant leap towards the same. With the effective implementation of the act, workplaces in India are rising to the requirement of promoting gender equality and the future only looks bright.