6 Key Aspects Of Posh Every Employee Must Know
During almost all our training on Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace, we observe that there is a lot of anxiety that there could be serious misuse of the law as only women are afforded protection under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act. Most men fear that the Act will become an instrument to settle personal scores at the workplace. On the other hand, a large section of those who faced sexual harassment do not report the incident(s) to the Internal Committee as they fear that the person causing the harassment could retaliate or the employer would protect the other party. Men or women also have other fears that get tabled, mostly, fear of losing reputation or their job, or becoming the butt of office gossip or wanting to quickly bury the mental trauma makes victims of sexual harassment not want to report the incident.
What is important to note is that the law is put in place to offer a mechanism to give redressal to one gender but in itself does not favour only one gender. There are several aspects of the law that ensure that a fair assessment is done should a complaint of sexual harassment be reported. Also on the onset, know that there are regulations in place to prevent the misuse of the law, especially if the complaint proves to be false or malicious.
Let’s understand 6 key aspects of the POSH law and PoSH policy which are important for every employee – as a person who complaints i.e. the “complainant”, as a person against whom a complaint is filed i.e. the “respondent” and also for those who are witnesses. Knowing these will empower employees to take a stand without fear and participate in making the workplace free of sexual harassment.
1. Understand the principle of natural justice:
Natural justice requires that both the complainant and respondent receive a fair and unbiased hearing before a decision is made. The three main requirements of natural justice that must be met in every case for both complainant and respondent are (i) equal opportunity to present their case. (ii) fair hearing and (iii) impartiality.
In the context of POSH, this principle means that just as a woman who feels that she is being subject to sexual harassment has the opportunity to file a complaint, the person against whom charges of sexual harassment are filed must also be given adequate opportunity to be heard, to cross examine the complainant, bring forth relevant evidence related to their defense and is entitled to know the reasons for the decision of the Internal Committee.
2. Protection against retaliation:
This means that both the complainant and respondent have the right to file a complaint in case they become subject to any form of retaliation. So, employees can assert their rights to be free from discrimination without fear of being punished. Not just this, under the PoSH law, the Internal Committee is obliged to look into such retaliation and take action to prevent it from happening again.
This aspect of the law not only supports the complainant and respondent but also other employees who may be bystanders or witnesses. In some cases, other organisational policies such as Whistle Blower’s policy also offer protection against retaliation to all employees.
3. Dynamics of working relations:
The law takes into consideration the fact that workplace relations are hierarchical. There are managers and employees. The manager calls the shots, while the subordinate employees execute. In an ideal world, a healthy employee relationship is essential to run effective teams. Employees must be comfortable with each other and work in unison towards a common goal. It is in these power lead equations that cases of sexual harassment arise (and they do in the best of scenarios). And during such instance, where someone senior is involved, the issue goes unreported.
Keeping this context in mind the law has defined a structure to create an Internal Committee that is neutral in its composition and its approach with both the employees and the management. The law warrants that an external member is also appointed in this committee to rule out any scope of preferential treatment or biased approach. Employees can approach any member of the Internal Committee in case of a complaint without fear or any preconceived notions.
4. Sexual harassment is a subjective experience:
This means that what may be okay for one person may not be okay for another and not just this, what may be okay today may not be okay tomorrow. For example, you may be ok to be hugged by a person of the opposite gender, but this same gesture may not be ok for another. It is important to remember that workplace sexual harassment is sexual, unwelcome, and subjective to the person who experiences it.
Very often situations that start innocently, as fun (calling someone names or gossiping) or as office social events (cake smashing on birthdays or giving bold dares in a game) end up in inappropriate and unprofessional behaviours. Yes, there is a lot of scope for misinterpretation and therefore all the more reason for all employees to be vigilant of themselves.
Employees, both men, and women must be able to ascertain the personal boundaries of colleagues and be mindful of our actions, gestures, words, body language, personal space, etc. Personal boundaries must also be communicated effectively and loud and clear. At the same time, if a colleague is not comfortable with certain behaviour then it must be stopped immediately and the other person’s professional boundary must be accepted, even if it may not be accepted by others. Lastly, what is acceptable keeps changing as well so it may be best to explicitly seek consent before crossing a colleague’s personal boundary.
5. The law looks at the impact and not the intent:
This implies that whatever the intention, it does not reduce the impact on the receiver. An act of sexual harassment may start as a comment, a stare, or an unwelcome touch, or a forward, or even a text message with innuendos. To the sender, this display of behavior may or may not be sexually intended. The individual at the receiving end may find it offensive as we learned in the previous point, after all, it is subjective. And impact far outweighs the intent.
In short, this means that if any woman perceives any act to be unwelcoming, or if any touch or comment makes her feel uncomfortable in any way, she is well within her rights to file a complaint against such behavior. In all cases, the woman’s perception of the conduct is valued more than the intention of the person causing the sexual harassment behind the conduct. Whether it is a single instance or a series of incidents of sexual harassment, each case is unique and is examined in its context and according to the surrounding circumstances as a whole. A natural behaviour for one might be offensive for another.
6. Finally, know your organisation policies:
Don’t wait for an instance to happen then go about wondering who to approach. If not for you, remember, this very information may be useful to someone you know. Make it a point to read and understand your organisations’ policy.
Every company is mandated to have a POSH policy in place. This should ideally state the organisation’s zero-tolerance stance about sexual harassment, what is considered as sexual harassment, who it protects, details of the Internal Committee, the procedures to be followed and what possible actions will be taken, to say the least. It is the responsibility of the employer to train employees and help them to get familiar with not just the POSH policy but also other related policies such as Code of conduct, Disclosure of personal relationships, Bullying, Harassment (other than sexual harassment) Whistleblowers policy, policy on office romance and other such ones.
Whether you are the HR, Management, Manager, senior, junior or new employee, remember that the prevention of sexual harassment is a collective responsibility. The employer will fulfill their duty as per law. Give employees all the knowledge and information but the onus of actually preventing instances of sexual harassment largely lies in the hands of the employees. When all employees collectively become vigilant, support each other, step up to object to inappropriate behaviour, don’t remain tightlipped about instance we observe or experience, and most importantly, remain neutral when our colleagues report a complaint or are reported; only then will our workplace truly become a safe workplace.
Partnering with the right organisation for POSH services is important. At Yellow Spark, we support a gender-neutral approach and offer a whole host of services under POSH such as policy drafting, policy audit, training stakeholders, and so on. To know more write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.