One of the biggest realities of 2020 is the Coronavirus pandemic. Apart from the devastation it has caused on the physical health and economic front, it was completely upended a lot of processes, systems, and established norms across corporate India. As we get used to working from home, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet, etc become the go-to platforms for interaction amongst employees, clients, and vendors. We need to understand how the new Virtual workplace will hold out on matters related to Sexual Harassment.

One of the key aspects of the Act is the definition of what constitutes the Workplace. While the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013 (“the Act”) is quite liberal in its interpretation of what constitutes a Workplace and if the same is read with the provisions of the Information Technology Act, it becomes clear that If an organization has requested you to be a part of a Virtual Platform which is managed/paid by the Employer then that too becomes an extension of the workplace. The objective of this was to highlight that all the laws, statutes, and the HR policies and norms become applicable to all official activities done on any virtual Meeting platforms.

People are using collaborative tools to share documents, hold virtual meetings, and make presentations. Some of the key points to remember from the perspective of the Act/POSH Laws.

With Employees working out of their bedrooms or Living rooms, it becomes difficult to enforce the office decorum during virtual meetings. Organizations need to sensitize their employees on some of the key points of Working from Home in the context of Appropriate decorum and adherence to norms under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment ( POSH) guidelines.

1. Appropriate Attire: In the workplace what is appropriate is greatly defined by the Industry and the corporate HR norms. However, what one wears during a Work From Home ( WFH) environment becomes important as you are technically at home but your working hours are being counted as part of your official time, hence, people should dress as per relevant corporate policies.

2. Language — The Virtual meeting platforms are an extension of the Workplace and hence all communication should be within the prescribed norms. Inappropriate Language or gestures during video calls would be deemed as violations under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Laws.

3. Environment — Employees and participants must take extra caution on the Camera Environment. Many Platforms allow the participants to change the background and participants must be careful not to have backgrounds and environments which may be deemed to be offensive. Another aspect of the Environment needs to be any visual element like a poster / Picture which may be deemed to be offensive appearing on the Video Window.

4. Employee Sensitization — For HR and Management its important that all necessary Employee Sensitization trainings are conducted online till the Work from Home norms are in place. They can be conducted through Webinars, Online Tutorials, and Videos amongst other means.

5. Redressal Mechanism — Corporates must have redressal mechanisms available online to handle any case of Sexual Harassment that may come up. All meetings of the Internal Committee may be conducted online and investigations can also be largely done through digital processes and evidence. In the current digital environment, digital evidence are crucial and hence the internal processes should be aligned for the same.

In the end, we are all responsible for the smooth running of all systems and processes in the lockdown. While the norms of work have changed, we will continue to face issues related to POSH in the Work from Home environment unless the fundamentals are addressed. Women need a safe working environment and a system in place which addresses any inappropriate behavior and nips it at the bud.

Arjun Sinha Roy

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