Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that has been plaguing employers for decades. In this 2-part article, we break down what sexual harassment is and what it can cost to employers, should they choose to ignore this issue. Subsequently, this post would discuss how employers can take steps to minimize the risk of sexual harassment in their workplaces and also how they should react when it does happen. And most importantly, we will also provide a list of resources that will help fight this menace.
What is Sexual Harassment at workplace?
Sexual harassment is not just touching someone, it involves several other acts. Most women are not aware of the fact that they are being sexually harassed, taking action against such acts seems out of the picture. Sexual harassment includes a whole lot of things that make women feel uncomfortable or humiliate them. Sexual Harassment includes the following–
- Any type of physical advances or contacts
- Misogynist or sexist remarks
- Asking for sexual favors
- Any undesirable non-verbal, verbal or physical conduct involving sexual acts
- Showing someone pornography forcefully
Apart from the above-mentioned acts, a few more are also included which are applicable specifically for the workplace. These are –
- Promising or implying that the person will receive some sort of preference in her employment status
- Promising or implying that the person will receive some sort of detrimental treatment in her employment status
- Giving a threat to someone regarding their employment status
- Humiliating to the point that the person’s safety is compromised or the person falls ill
Creating an unsafe or offensive workplace environment for someone deliberately. Sexual harassment at a workplace is considered violation of women’s right to equality, life and liberty. It creates an insecure and hostile work environment, which discourage women’s participation in work, thereby adversely affecting their social and economic empowerment and the goal of inclusive growth. It is a serious crime and it should not be taken lightly no matter what the victim thinks or the harasser’s intentions are. The harasser may be a colleague, supervisor, owner of the business, customer, or vendor.
What does Sexual Harassment Cost employers?
When an employer or employee sexually harasses another person, it can have a negative impact on the victim, their family, other employees, customers, and the company as a whole. It can lead to psychological distress that may even affect the person’s health and well-being. This is why employers should take sexual harassment seriously—the culture they set in their workplace has a big impact on whether people feel safe and comfortable at work.
Sexual harassment is a very sensitive issue and an employer should be mindful of such. Sexual harassment had been reported to cause huge dent in company’s reputation. If not dealt appropriately, it would just be a matter of time before the company might find itself battling legalities rather than business. Moreover, such incidents can cause mistrust and fear among employees which is generally counterproductive for the company and eventually leads to its downfall. It can lead to serious consequences like low productivity, turn out rate, lack of trust amongst shareholders. The company’s assets, customer loyalty and its image, are all at stake.
Therefore, It is very important for employers to be proactive about this issue- that means educating employees on what constitutes harassment and how to prevent it. Employees must also know that they have the right to work in a safe environment without feeling threatened or harassed.
What does regulation says about it ?
In wake of the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Vishaka & Ors. vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors. (1997), the Ministry of Women and Child Development (“Ministry”), after several years, vide a Notification dated December 9, 2013, passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“PoSH Act”). 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”, Download the Act and Rules Here) 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.
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.
Sexual Harassment is a form of discrimination that violates the law in most places. It’s illegal to create or maintain an environment that is hostile or intimidating, or even one in which employees are offended by the inappropriate conduct of their coworkers. Employers should take it seriously and offer sexual harassment prevention training for all staff members, as well as a clear complaint process with a way to report incidents. It would cost the employers much more to have an employee who sexually harasses others than what they would spend on a company’s sexual harassment prevention program.