Sexual harassment is a serious issue that affects many people in the workplace irrespective of their gender yet in our patriarchally-shaped society women have been mostly the victim. To prevent this abuse of power and curb the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace, PoSH Act was implemented by the Government of India in 2013.
The Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act (PoSH Act) provides the ‘mandatory’ guidelines to be implemented by an organisation in order to create a safe and comfortable working environment for women. It’s been almost a decade since the Act has been passed yet many companies still don’t have a proper poSH policy. Reasons for this range from inadequate knowledge to a complete lack of awareness.
By going through this ultimate guide, you’ll know everything you require and need to do, to make your organisation PoSH Compliant (and a safer workplace for women)
Mandatory steps towards PoSH Compliance:
- Draft a PoSH Policy for your organisation.
- Reflect PoSH Policy in all existing and future employment contracts.
- Implement a complaint mechanism (creating an Internal Committee) for employees to report any incidents of sexual harassment.
- Train all employees on PoSH policies and procedures and create awareness.
- Submit Annual Report on PoSH Compliance.
Take an in-depth look at each step:
Step 1: Drafting a PoSH Policy
Companies need to draft a policy which details all processes and steps it would take for the prevention of sexual harassment at workplace, including the complaint and follow-up proceedings.
Keep these few things in mind while creating PoSH policy:
- Highlight the organisation’s stance of zero-tolerance against any kind of harassment, especially sexual harassment.
- Clearly mention the objective and purpose of creating the policy.
- The PoSH policy must clearly, state ‘who this policy is for’ (employees, office staff, interns, etc) and ‘where does it apply to’ which basically state what constitutes ‘workplace’ (office, office outing, office transportation, parking lot, etc)
Note that, although the PoSH policy is in place to prevent women from sexual harassment at the workplace, many organisations go one step ahead and make their policy gender-neutral, which is legal and is in our opinion a great step.
- It’s highly important to state in clear terms, what constitutes ‘sexual harassment’ so that there’s no conflict later, this includes physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, making sexually offensive remarks, showing pornography- as has been mentioned under the PoSH at Workplace Act.
- Explain at length, very clearly, the dos and don’ts of dealing with sexual harassment at the workplace.
- Organizations must provide information about the constitution of the Internal Committee (IC) and the details of the Internal Committee members.
- The procedure of filing a complaint and seeking redressal must be stated clearly in the policy including information such as who should be approached in case a person has a complaint and the timeline of the investigation process.
- One must mention the compensation procedures for the complainant.
- Privacy clauses must be added to protect the confidentiality of the complainant, respondent, and witnesses.
Step 2: Reflect PoSH Policy in the Employment Contract
It’s important that your commitment towards ensuring a safe workplace for women and a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment should reflect on all offer letters and employment contracts, both the existing ones and the ones that’ll come in future.
Step 3: Implement a complaint mechanism
A complaint mechanism in the form of an Internal Committee has to be step 3. The law states that any organization that has 10 or more employees, must constitute an internal committee (“IC”) to receive and redress complaints on sexual harassment at the workplace.
Formulation of Internal Committee
The Internal Complaints Committee must comprise of
- Presiding Officer: The presiding officer must be a senior-level woman employed at the organisation. She will be the chairperson of the IC.
- Internal Members: 2 or more employees must be selected to be Internal Complaints Committee members. They should have decent legal knowledge and be committed to the cause of women or have experience in social work.
- 50% Women: At least 50% of the total members nominated to the IC must be women.
- External Member: An external member has to be appointed who is not connected with the company in any form, this helps in some way in having a member with an extremely unbiased opinion. The external member of the IC has to be selected from NGOs or social groups and associations committed to the good cause of women or a person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment.
Out of all the Internal committee members, the role of the External Member is often confusing. Let’s learn more about it:
Role of an External Member:
The External Member plays a critical role in keeping the internal committee unbiased and equitable. Here’s a list of roles that an External Member may perform:
- Help in creating awareness among the employees about the policy.
- Answers queries of the employees and other IC members related to the PoSH policy.
- Provide suggestions and advice to the organisation regarding the implementation of the policy.
- Supervising and playing an impartial role in any complaint related to sexual harassment.
- Preparing annual reporting, MoM of the regular IC meeting, if required, may be prepared by the External Member.
Responsibilities of IC
Once an IC is formed, it has the authorization to do the following:
- IC can draft and amend the Sexual Harassment Policy for the organization.
- It can organise PoSH training and awareness programs at regular intervals in the form of eLearning courses or Instructor-led sessions.
- It can conduct meetings when:
- A written complaint is received from any women employee( on any employee if you have a gender-neutral policy)
- To settle grievances and
- To make sure there is appropriate compensation for any case of misconduct and sexual harassment.
Legal implications when IC has not formed
Prevention of sexual harassment is the top-most priority of the PoSH Act and an Internal Committee plays a major role in delivering it hence, an organisation can get into serious trouble if the IC is not constituted properly. These are some of the legal implications if the IC is not formed according to the mandates stated by the law:
- Incorrectly constituted IC can be dissolved by the judicial courts and they’ll direct the organisation to reconstitute the Internal Committee in strict compliance with the POSH Act.
- The complaints will have a new inquiry to the new-formed Internal Committee.
- If there is an element of bias in the constitution or inquiry, then the complaint may be assigned to a competent authority to conduct the inquiry, such as the Local Complaints Committee
The legal consequences if your organisation does not have an IC are
- Penalty extending up to Rs. 50,000
- Double penalty in cases of repeat offences.
- Cancellation of non-renewal of business licence.
Step 4: Train all employees on PoSH policies and procedures and create awareness.
It’s made mandatory by law for an organisation to spread awareness about the PoSH policy and prevention of sexual harassment among employees. Creating awareness is the biggest challenge among all the PoSH Guidelines, but it’s also the most effective way to prevent sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct in the workplace.
Why is there a need for PoSH training? Many people fail to even realise that their behaviour at the workplace and the thing they do nonchalantly might be a form of sexual harassment under PoSH law. At the same time, many victims don’t even know how to recognize that the abuse or comments they are facing, which makes them uncomfortable are covered under PoSH Act and are punishable offences.
PoSH training is essential to eliminate the root cause of the problem by making people more aware of their behaviour and conduct at the workplace and at the same time, openly educating them about the PoSH law and the options available to them if they face any form of harassment.
Training is needed at both employee and management levels. Employees need to be made aware of the right workplace conduct and PoSH law. While the management should be trained for more than just law and conduct, they need to be trained for forming a policy, appointing IC members and most importantly, proper handling of any complaint that they come across.
There are many ways to deliver PoSH training such as:
- Conducting Instructor-led classroom training sessions.
- Interactive eLearning courses
- Monthly mentor-led awareness sessions
- Regular learning with PoSH posters and banners at the workplace, imparting education through company mailers, using an LMS to deliver training as a course, etc.
Organisations are free to choose the form of training, and the most popular choice has always been either a classroom program or an eLearning course.
In our opinion eLearning Courses are the best way to go forwards and here’s why:
- eLearning Courses are the best way to deliver PoSH training to remotely working employees.
- Online training helps you deliver training to the new employees from day one, without waiting for the next classroom session.
- The online training model is extremely cost-effective and minimises the training cost of your organisation.
- Tracking and Assessment of compliance with online training is very easy.
- eLearning courses are customizable and you can deliver the same training in their regional languages to the employees.
- Considering sexual harassment is a sensitive topic, eLearning courses provide privacy and employees and learn about it on their own time privately.
Step 5: Annual Report on PoSH Compliance.
It’s again mandatory by law under section 21 of the PoSH Act, that the Internal Committee has to submit an annual report on PoSH Compliance to the employer as well as the District Officer, which will then be forwarded to the state government.
In the Annual report, apart from the organisation details, the following things are to be included:
- The number of sexual harassment complaints received.
- The number of complaints actioned and dealt with.
- The number of complaints where the action was not required.
- Complaints of employees trained under mandatory PoSH Training.
- The number of cases under investigation for more than 90 days.
- The actions that were taken by the organisation and the District Officers.
PoSH is not a choice but mandatory compliance and more than that, it’s a necessity to create a safer workplace. Organisations need to take PoSH compliance training seriously and implement it in the best way possible. We have covered everything you need to know about PoSH at length, if you have any queries or you’re looking for eLearning courses for your posh training feel free to contact us.