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Consultants who guide organizations to comply with the ‘Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013’ tend to hear similar questions from clients.
Clients often ask at the end of an assignment – ‘So, are we all set now? Is there anything else we need to do from our side?’
These questions stem from not wanting to fall short in their compliance with the PoSH Act. Yet, don’t they make it seem like we are missing the forest for the trees?
Brushing aside a pedantic interpretation, consultants must re-iterate that – ‘Complying with PoSH is not the end in itself, but the means to the end. The end is a safe environment for all employees to contribute and thrive.’
More so because, adherence to PoSH is still largely looked at from the prism of compliance – rather than its true spirit which is – to provide a safe work environment for female employees. This brings us to the question:
What will it take to implement PoSH in its true spirit?
Instituting an Internal Committee (IC) may fulfill the PoSH checklist, but a defanged one defeats its purpose.
Generally, employees report sexual harassment to their HR or IC when they believe that those in power are empowered and intend to provide a safe work environment. When the IC does a shoddy job of an investigation or is found incompetent in redressing such complaints due to their biases or political compulsions, word of it spreads wildly.
The result? Other employees refrain from complaining about sexual harassment for lack of trust in the system.
On the contrary, word of an independent, strong, empowered IC that takes action on complaints, breathes trust into the organization.
Let’s consider one stipulation of PoSH which states that a Local Committee member should be either a social worker with certain years of experience or be familiar with civil, criminal, service or labor law. However, this is not required for the mandatory external member of the IC.
Most organizations indeed appoint members worthy of such roles. Yet, there is a possibility of a few organizations taking advantage of the absence of specifications.
Could they hire external members to suit their convenience? For instance, can an organization choose a member of a social club as the external member, quoting the experience of having handled the club’s fund-raising activities for its social outreach program?
Organizational shortsightedness such as this can overturn the collective competence and effectiveness of the IC – a quasi-judicial committee.
Ensuring that the IC comprises of worthy individuals from both an ethic and experience angle, increases the probability of the compliance to PoSH in its true sense.
The Act imposes fines for non-compliance and false declarations made in the Annual report.
When organizations implement PoSH more like a checklist, it could result in lapses including – wrong IC composition, unaddressed complaints, and potential failure to implement the recommendations of the IC. In implementing PoSH with the right intent of providing a safe environment to its female employees, it helps lapses from arising.
Leaders need to display that they care about providing a safe environment for employees – by attending training sessions, providing the necessary resources and independence to the IC and upholding the IC’s decisions. These actions indicate that PoSH is not just a task list that needs to be checked, but a tool that upholds zero-tolerance to sexual harassment in the workplace.
Organizations must stop viewing compliance as a cheaper option to being sued as a result of non-compliance. By focusing their energies on providing a safe environment for female employees to work in, they will begin to view PoSH as ‘the means to the end’ and not the end in itself.