Last week marked the third anniversary of the global #MeToo movement, ignited by people sharing their stories of sexual harassment and abuse, and the two year anniversary of its advent in India. You asked, and we answered, burning questions about the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) law, and what it means for our safety in today’s Indian workplaces.
Here’s a roundup of the most important, relevant information about what the POSH law says, its protections and provisions, and what constitutes workplace sexual harassment.
1. What is the POSH law?
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 has a three-step framework to empower a safe, inclusive company culture:
Prevention: Annual awareness and sensitization programs
Prohibition: Organizational POSH and safety policies, public posters and notices
Redressal: Every organization with 10 or more employees should setup a trained, functional Internal Committee (IC) to resolve complaints of sexual harassment.
2. What is sexual harassment?
Any unwelcome sexual behavior in the form of:
Physical contact and advances
Demand or request for sexual favors
Sexually colored remarks
Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature
There are two main types of sexual harassment at the workplace:
Quid Pro Quo (something for something): Any demand or request for sexual favors resulting in preferential or detrimental treatment on the job.
Hostile Work Environment: Any unwelcome sexual behavior interfering with one's work or creating an intimidating, offensive, or hostile work environment.
There are five core principles that can help us understand workplace sexual harassment and its implications better.
1. Extended workplaces:
Your workplace is not just a physical office; it includes digital as well as all spaces where you and your colleagues interact, including external conferences, Zoom calls, WhatsApp chats, cab rides, formal or informal dinners, etc.
2. Gender discrimination vs sexual harassment:
Gender discrimination or sexism is linked to prejudice and stereotypes around sex, gender and gender roles. It may include the belief that one sex or gender is intrinsically superior to another.
Examples include pay disparity, questioning a woman's commitment or competence based on her marital status or child bearing, etc.
Sexual harassment is usually a subset of gender discrimination. Remember: All gender discrimination does not amount to sexual harassment.
3. Understanding consent:
For any sexual behavior to be consensual, it requires explicit consent from all involved parties that is:
Can be withdrawn at any time.
The law clearly states that what matters is the impact (on the complainant) and not the intent (of the respondent/perpetrator).
5. Natural Justice:
POSH law encourages a fair and unbiased hearing based on these principles:
Audi alteram partem: Both parties have the right to present their story, with evidence, witnesses, etc.
Nemo judex in causa sua: No Internal Committee member can judge a case in which they have any involvement.
We recognize that the ability to access our rights stems from our strong understanding of our rights. We helped you identify your rights against workplace sexual harassment.
1. Your company's responsibilities:
The POSH law has a three-step guideline for companies:
2. Who is involved in a complaint?
Complainant: If you face sexual harassment and file a complaint against the perpetrator, then you would be the complainant in the case.
Respondent: The person against whom you file the complaint that is the person who is responding to the complaint would be the respondent in the case
3. Complainant and respondent’s rights:
An empathetic attitude from the IC
Other party's statement copy along with a list of witness and evidence, if any
Right to confidentiality
IC member removal in case of breach of confidentiality, bias or unfair hearing
Right to appeal
Any additional, reasonable support from the IC
4. What is interim relief?
During the pendency of the case, in addition to the above-mentioned rights, you also have the right to request for:
Paid leave or work from home for 3 months
Yours or respondent's transfer to a different branch or geographical location, or
Change of manager/ reporting structure if your complaint is against your direct supervisor
5. What are your Internal Committee’s responsibilities?
Offer support (as and when required)
Start the process post written complaint without undue delay
Follow the due process of law
Adhere to the norms of recusal
Offer support for conciliation and interim relief
Fair and objective hearing
The #MeToo movement empowered survivors to speak up, be audible and credible, and advocate for safe, fair, and dignified workplaces. It however is important to take stock of how far we've come, and how very far we still have to go when it comes to building safe, inclusive workplaces for all. The Human Rights Watch study found that in India, nearly 95% of all working women are in the informal sector, caught in a persistent cycle of sexual harassment and abuse with little recourse to legal remedies or redressal. “The factory worker, the domestic worker, the construction worker, we have not even recognized the fact that they are sexually harassed and assaulted on a daily basis. But poverty leaves them no choice, they know whatever earning they make is far more important.” said Delhi-based lawyer Rebecca John.
The #MeToo movement serves as a major inspiration for TrustIn, where we believe everyone should feel safe and empowered to pursue their goals. And it reminds us how this sense of safety matters at the workplace- the companies and colleges- where we spend most of our time, and therefore our lives.
Keeping the spirit of this movement at heart, we help companies empower a safe and employee-centric culture while also ensuring 100% POSH compliance, 100% of the time.