Globalization and the rapid growth of the information technology sector have brought a significant change in the status of women around the globe. However, with a rapid increase in the number of women entering the country’s workforce every year, instances of sexual harassment at the workplace have been on the rise. A safe workplace is every woman’s legal right, and any form of sexual harassment at a workplace is a violation of a woman’s right to equality, life, and liberty. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“the Act/the POSH Act”) defines any unwelcome act or behavior, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature as a sexual harassment and the law was passed to provide safe working environment for women and to respect their right to equality of status and opportunity.
The POSH Act requires all companies with more than 10 employees to form an Internal Committee that would work on preventing, protecting women from sexual harassment and redress the complaints received. The committee must be headed by a woman employee of senior level in the company, two or more employees and an external person who has worked in the field of social work or the one committed to the cause of women. 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.
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.
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.
Duties of Employers
Every employer is required to:
- Provide a safe working environment which includes safety from persons coming into contact at the workplace.
- Display at any conspicuous place, the penal consequences of sexual harassment and the policy of the IC.
- Provide complete assistance to a woman if she chooses to file a complaint in relation to any form of sexual harassment.
- Monitor the timely submission of reports of the IC.
A Better Future Ahead
Legally, sexual harassment at workplaces can no longer be dismissed as an instance of moral transgression. 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.
However, the law has played a significant part in creating greater awareness among the workforce on the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. It is fair to say that it has given a great deal of confidence for working women throughout the country to come out and report adverse incidents. It is assuring to see that progressive employers have gone to great lengths to implement the law thereby promoting the social and economic empowerment of women and inclusive growth.
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.
Counsel quest also acts as a Posh committee external member for ICCs under POSH Act, 2013. To know more about the POSH act 2013 get in touch with us.