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10 Jun 2024

Demystifying POSH: A World of Taboos and Uncertainty

10 Jun 2024
Demystifying POSH: A World of Taboos and Uncertainty

In the corporate environment today, you may often come across the term “POSH”. Whether the company you’re working at is talking about it, or the HR is circulating a document called “POSH Policy”, or you hear about a POSH Committee, or learn about someone initiating action under the POSH Act.

But do you know what POSH is? What does it stand for? Who can claim under POSH and when? What are your rights and how does it impact you? What can you do in a POSH-related situation?

If the answer is no, here’s a quick read giving you the basics of POSH. 

Sexual harassment in workplaces is a global issue, including in India. However, as India was a very patriarchal country, women oriented laws were few. Sexual Harassment against women was also majorly neglected in our country until about a decade ago when Supreme Court and the Government of India finally took some measures and regularised it by passing a legislation called: “Sexual Harasment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013”, better known as “POSH” Act.

  1. What is POSH?

POSH literally stands for- “Prevention of Sexual Harassment”.

  1. Who does the POSH Act apply to?

Well, as the name of the Act suggests, its for protection of women against sexual harassment at work places in India – whether in corporate organisations, or domestic set-ups.

  1. What constitutes sexual harassment? 

Any unwanted sexual advances, comments, gestures, or actions that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for an individual.

The Supreme Court defined sexual harassment as “any unwelcome, sexually determined physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct”.

Sexual Harassment at workplace includes behaviour such as:

  • Physical contact or advances
  • Making sexually coloured remarks
  • Demand or request for sexual favours
  • Eve-teasing and any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature
  • Showing Pornography
  • Staring, leering, obscene gestures, making kissing sounds, licking lips
  • Stalking, blocking, cornering
  • Implied or explicit preferential treatment or threat about jobs
  • Making work discussions sound sexual and using innuendos
  • Physical assault and molestation

  1. So what is not sexual harassment? 

While sexual harassment can encompass a wide range of behaviours, there are certain actions and interactions that, in isolation, may not be considered sexual harassment. Here are some examples of such actions:

  • Compliments: Giving compliments or making polite comments about someone’s appearance or attire, as long as they are respectful and not objectifying.
  • Single, Non-Offensive Jokes: Telling a single, non-offensive joke that has a sexual theme may not necessarily be sexual harassment, especially if it’s not directed at someone in a demeaning or offensive way.
  • Non-Sexual Touching: Non-sexual physical contact, like a friendly hug or handshake.

Whether something constitutes sexual harassment often depends on the context, intent, and impact it has on the victim.

  1. Where can an incident occur?

  1. Any department, organization, undertaking, establishment, enterprise institution, office or branch unit of the Company.
  2. Any place visited by the employee during the course of employment, including the following:

  • Cafeteria
  • Meeting room
  • Staircase
  • Premises
  • Car Park
  • Elevator
  • Cabins
  • Cab
  • Online or over the phone

  1. What is a POSH Policy?

Every employer with female employees is required to adopt and enforce a POSH Policy elaborating on its scope, acts considered as sexual harassment covered, applicability, complaint and redressal mechanism,details and contact information of POSH committee members.

Today, a lot of organisations internationally are embracing a gender neutral and “all inclusive” policy, to protect every individual employee from sexual harassment regardless of their gender or orientation or identity.

  1. What’s a POSH Internal Committee?

It’s a committee appointed by employers with more than 10 employees including female employees, comprised of 4 members, with atleast 50% women, one being an external independent member, to whom any victim can complain about any incident of sexual harassment.

The Committee’s responsibility is to acknowledge the complaint filed, investigate and prepare a report with details of the incident, and to recommend a suitable course of action to the employer.

  1. What to do if you are a victim but your organisation does not have a POSH Internal committee?

If your organisation is not required to appoint a committee under the law, or has failed to appoint, you can always file a complaint with the Local Committee, appointed for each District by the respective State Government.

  1. What to do if you have a complaint?

Complaints can be filed with IC within 3 months of the incident or the last incident in a series. IC can extend this period up to 3 months for any valid reasons.

  • If a complainant is physically incapacitated, a complaint can be lodged with their prior written consent by a relative, friend, co-worker, an officer of the NCW or SCW, or any individual with knowledge of the incident.
  • If a complainant is mentally incapacitated, a complaint can be made with their prior written consent by a relative, friend, special educator, qualified psychiatrist, psychologist, guardian, authority responsible for their care, or any person knowledgeable about the incident.
  • If a complainant has passed away, a complaint can be filed with the prior written consent of the deceased employee’s legal heir or any designated person.
  • If the complaint is made to an employee (not a member of the IC), the employee shall promptly report it to the IC.

  1. What actions can the Internal Committee recommend and/or employer take against the offender / accused?

  • Censure or reprimand
  • Written warning
  • Withholding promotion and/or increments
  • Suspension
  • Termination
  • Deduction of compensation payable to the victim
  • Community service or counseling
  • Or any other action that the management and/or the board of directors of the Company may deem fit.

What to do if you are a witness or a colleague?

As observers or witnesses:

  • Intervene If Safe
  • Document What Was Seen
  • Support the Victim
  • Report the Harassment

As colleagues:

  • Create a Supportive Environment
  • Encourage Reporting
  • Cooperate with Investigations
  • Respect Privacy
  • Maintain confidentiality

  1. What not to do?

  • Do NOT ignore it – reporting is essential
  • Do NOT accept inappropriate or uncomfortable behaviour
  • Do NOT retaliate or mock the victim – Instead be supportive, instead of socially ostracizing or demeaning or intimidating the victim
  • The confidentiality of all aspects related to the complaint has to be strictly maintained. Do not disclose this information to the public or media in any way.

The internal committee possesses the authority to initiate actions against the accused when found guilty and against the complainant in the event that false claims are proven.

  • Any party not satisfied by the recommendations of IC, can appeal to the appellate authority within 90 (ninety) days of the recommendations being communicated.

Conclusion

It is every employer’s duty to provide a safe working space to all employees, and the Internal Committee is obligated to not only redress complaints but also ensure sexual harassment is prevented and does not happen at the workplaces. All complaints and proceedings

Posted by
Treelife
Last updated on
Jun 10, 2024, 11:54am

Disclaimer:

The content of this article is for information purpose only and does not constitute advice or a legal opinion and are personal views of the author. It is based upon relevant law and/or facts available at that point of time and prepared with due accuracy & reliability. Readers are requested to check and refer to relevant provisions of statute, latest judicial pronouncements, circulars, clarifications etc. before acting on the basis of the above write up. The possibility of other views on the subject matter cannot be ruled out. By the use of the said information, you agree that the Author / Treelife is not responsible or liable in any manner for the authenticity, accuracy, completeness, errors or any kind of omissions in this piece of information for any action taken thereof.

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