POSH was India’s first piece of legislation that specifically dealt with workplace sexual harassment of women. Now, Indian employers are responsible for ensuring a safe working environment by preventing, prohibiting and redressing sexual harassment.
India CSR POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) Summit & Awards for Inclusive Workplace will be held on 5 June at New Delhi. The idea behind organising summit is to deliberate on best practices and recognize organisations that have believed and excelled in creating safe workplace and respectful culture. The summit is being organised by India CSR, India’s largest Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility (CSR) network.
According to a study conducted by Complykaro Services, which released last year, there’s been a 28% increase in the total number of sexual harassment complaints (at 1,453) received by BSE 500 companies — a pointer that there’s increased PoSH awareness. In 2017-18, the total number of such complaints received by this segment of companies was 1,138.
It’s been over four years since the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, or the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Act, kicked in.
And a large number of BSE 500 companies — 210 to be exact (42% of the total) — have declared in their annual reports that they received zero complaints on sexual harassment since 2015-16.
The Act is unique in a number of ways. First, it 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.
POSH is an abbreviation for Prevention of Sexual Harassment. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act was introduced with an objective to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace.
POSH Laws apply to every employer whether an individual, partnership or a company. Therefore, every organization, be it Public Limited Company, Private Limited Company, Limited Liability Partnership, Partnership Firms, Association, Society, Trust, Proprietorship or even an NGO, irrespective of its size and number of the employees, has to comply with the laws enshrined in the Act.
Non-compliance with POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) can cost an employer a monetary penalty of Rs. 50,000. On repeated non-compliance, the employer may be penalized with twice the punishment. Non-compliance can also lead to cancellation of license, withdrawal or non-renewal of registration for carrying on business, by the Government or local authority.
The Act defines sexual harassment quite widely, and also includes ‘quid pro quo’ harassment, such as promises of advancement in return for sex.
Sexual harassment does not have to involve physical contact but could, for example, include sexual remarks, sexually explicit pictures or screensavers and inappropriate advances made directly or via social networking sites.
The Act utilises the concept of the ‘extended workplace.’ In addition to the office of the employer or employee, any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including transportation provided by the employer for the purpose of commuting to and from the place of employment, will also constitute a workplace.
Further, social settings endorsed or financed by the employer are also considered a workplace under POSH law.
- Duties of employers under POSH law
- POSH law requires every employer to provide a safe working environment, including:
- Displays of the penal consequences of workplace sexual harassment,
- Publication of POSH-related policies,
- Contact details for the Internal Committee, and;
- Delivery of what is (potentially extensive) awareness training.
This range of requirements – amongst many other factors – have resulted in a relatively slow implementation of POSH within many organisations.
The Act does not require the woman to be an employee; a customer or a visitor who feels sexually harassed at any workplace can claim protection under POSH Law.
The definition of an ‘employee’ under the Act is also quite wide and covers:
- Regular, temporary, and ad hoc employees.
- Individuals engaged on a daily wage basis (either directly or through an agent)
- Contract workers, probationers, trainees and apprentices.
- To complicate matters, an employee under this definition could be working with or without the knowledge of the principal employer, whether for remuneration or not. It also applies to workers who are utilised on a voluntary basis, and the terms of employment could be express or implied.