POSH COMPLIANCE- PROGRESSIVE STEPS

Adherence to Posh Compliance has been a revolutionary step by companies in the direction of ensuring a safe workplace. This can be inferred from the data compiled from annual reports of the top 44 Nifty companies which showed that total complaints have dropped by 2.6% in the Financial Year of 2020 as compared to 2019. Tech Mahindra which reported 26 cases in 2019, saw nil complaint in the year 2020, showing a 100% dip during the year.[1] Compliance with the POSH Act has become highly crucial because the law also allows third parties like contractors and customers who visit the premises of the organization, to file a complaint of sexual harassment at the workplace.

An unsafe workplace can lead to a general impairment of the employee’s psychological well-being and reduce their productivity. Workplaces with a greater number of instances of workplace harassment also suffer from higher employee turnover rates. Vishaka, a women’s welfare group triggered a national consciousness on an issue that was, until then, not given its due importance. The Supreme Court of India, in Vishaka and Others v. State of Rajasthan and Others[2], observed that equality in employment cannot be achieved if women are subjected to gender-specific violence at the workplace, such as sexual harassment. The court decided to use this opportunity to create a protective framework for the female workforce of this country, and thus, comprehensive guidelines were drafted. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is India’s first codified legislation specifically dealing with the prevention, prohibition, and redressal of sexual harassment of women at the workplace. The Act recognizes that sexual harassment amounts to a fundamental violation of women’s rights, including their right to live with dignity in any profession, trade, or business.

 

Effective compliance with the PoSH Act makes workplaces safer, displaces the fears and discomfort of employees, increases employee satisfaction, and saves companies from other costs associated with sexual harassment. Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 an employer is legally required to comply with certain statutory requirements. The legal and financial costs of non-compliance with the PoSH Act vary from INR 50,000 to INR 25, 00, 000 for the defaulter company, and INR 50,000 to INR 5, 00, 000 or imprisonment for up to 3 years, or both, for every officer in default.[3] To further strengthen the compliance noose, in 2018, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs had notified an amendment to the Companies (Accounts) Rules, 2014, requiring all eligible companies to incorporate a statement in the Board of Directors Report that they have complied with the provisions relating to the constitution of an Internal Complaints Committee under the POSH Act.

Training sessions and awareness programs have developed a work environment which is better sensitized towards women employees as it aims at building a more effective complaint redressal system.

The recent significant judgments are progressive steps towards the betterment of women employees. In the case of Dr. Malabika Bhattacharjee v. Internal Complaints Committee, Vivekananda College and Others[4], the Calcutta High Court observed that “Same-gender sexual acts were held to be maintainable under the Act”. In another leading case of Sanjeev Mishra v. Bank of Baroda and Others[5], the court observed, “Sexual Harassment on Digital Platform constitutes harassment at workplace” giving a wider frame to the Act.

Data on reported cases showed that corporate companies have registered fewer cases in the financial year of 2020 as compared to the previous year of 2019.[6]  To strengthen compliance, many companies in India have been taking initiatives to create a safe, diverse, and inclusive workplace. Significant measures have been taken by businesses for the safety of their employees, ICICI Bank adopted 'iTravelSafe', an application that provides easy access to register an SOS distress signal for women employees.[7] Inside the offices of Hindustan Unilever Limited, women employees are discouraged from working beyond 8.30 p.m. Any instances of late working are detected by the attendance card reader and an alert is sent to the employee’s line manager automatically[8]. Chennai-based KelpHR organized its maiden POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) Awards, 2020 to reward the “Best Practices in Prevention of Sexual Harassment” giving a boost to the corporates to make their workplaces safe.[9]

The way forward is to prioritize creating a supportive and non-toxic work environment through various enabling mechanisms such as holding periodical awareness and sensitization programs while ensuring that the employers comply with the POSH Act in letter and spirit. Compliance with the law on prevention of sexual harassment includes legal, adjudicative, training, and interpersonal skills, which makes the process and system relatively more difficult for a worker to understand without specialized training and guidance.

Times are evolving and technology is playing a very important role in our day-to-day activities. In today’s world, awareness can be made through online platforms and social media networks. In addition, maintaining professional timings, intimating in advance of video calling and respecting the privacy of colleagues on their social media accounts has become a norm in remote working scenarios.

In conclusion, the need of the hour continues to be a concerted effort by all the stakeholders to work towards achieving the shared objective of creating a healthy workplace. By addressing sexual harassment at the employee, managerial, and organization levels, the certainty for change is boundless. Conducting regular anti-sexual harassment training makes the workplace safer, assuages the fears and discomfort of employees, increases employee satisfaction and saves companies from the massive costs associated with lower productivity. Yet, it is crucial to take into consideration that change is a collective effort involving all hands-on board through each step of the journey. Eventually, everyone can move one step closer to a sustainable culture of integrity by using these tools.

 

Are homes, workplaces, and the road to it all, secure? Not yet. There is distance to cover before it can be said that we have shown up!

[1] https://www.livemint.com/companies/news/sexual-harassment-cases-see-a-marginal-decline-in-india-s-largest-companies-11599384167896.html.

[2] (1997) 6 SCC 241

[3]https://www.iitk.ac.in/wc/data/Handbook%20on%20Sexual%20Harassment%20of%20Women%20at%20Workplace.pdf.

[4] W.P.A. 9141 of 2020, dated 27-11-2020.

[5] S.B. Civil Writ Petition No.150/2021

[6] Supra at Note 1.

[7] https://www.icicibank.com/aboutus/Annual-Reports/2019-20/ICICI-Bank-Annual-Report-FY2020.pdf.

[8] https://www.hul.co.in/Images/hul-brr-2015-16_tcm1255-483140_en.pdf.

[9] https://www.kelphr.com/blogs/kelphr-hosts-indias-first-ever-award-ceremony-to-recognize-and-reward-the-best-practices-in-prevention-of-sexual-harassment/