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“Gossip is so common. So are relationships at the Workplace!”
What can we do when these become a case of Sexual harassment?
So, should the HR be the Moral Police?
Read these responses which are part of a 4-part series that were addressed during KelpHR’s Webinar with PeopleMatters, on the 15th of November. We hope you find this insightful and do reach out to us for any further queries at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Would a gossip relating to two persons by a third, be called Grievance or a Sexual Harassment case?
If the gossip involves comments and details that are of sexual nature, that are humiliating and affecting the dignity of the persons named, then it would be called ‘Sexual Harassment’.
Q: if an employee harasses another, outside the office/ workspaces – i.e. personally, but is absolutely normal / well -behaved at office around colleagues, does this also comes under Workplace SH?
Hi Anu, Thanks for joining us again. While the law says that only incidents that occur at the Workplace must be registered by the IC, in such cases we recommend that HR/IC must understand that though the issue has occurred outside the workplace, it is an issue between 2 colleagues who know each other because of the workplace, and hence disengage the working relationship as it may affect the team functioning and productivity of these employees. It is up to the IC to decide whether to take up the case under PoSH Act or let the HR handle it as an employee grievance.
Q: Is the company liable to get into cases where personal relationships between two colleagues go sour and no workplace harassment is involved
Unless a case of Sexual Harassment is reported by either of the 2 employees involved, or co-workers or anyone else impacted by the relationship or its fallout, the IC need not get involved. However, as a manager, if you notice that this is an issue that is impending and it is causing some level of discomfort/hostile environment for all, he/she might consider informing the IC.IC may then have to take at least preventive measures.
If a relationship has gone sour and the complainant has already taken it up externally by filing an FIR, is it mandatory for the company to take it up proactively and take the case further? This is a personal relationship gone sour and no effect on work
If the complainant has reported a case of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace to the IC, only then the organization needs to ensure that they conduct an inquiry. The IC must follow its due process.
If the issue is Sexual Harassment, however, not at the workplace, it’s important for the IC to consider the issue and disengage the working relation.
If it’s any other issue of harassment, violence, etc. the IC must be supportive to the extent of reporting it to the right grievance cell either within the company or externally, however the IC should not to inquire into the matter.
Q: If we have observed that 2 employees are in relation where one of the employee is married, what kind of action can be taken from the organization stand point
Unless a case of Sexual Harassment is reported by either of the 2 employees involved, or co-workers or anyone else impacted by the relationship or its fallout, the IC need not get involved. We need to be aware of any form of ‘Moral Policing’ and stick to the guidelines of preventing, prohibiting and addressing ‘Sexual Harassment’ at the Workplace only. If there is any public display of affection at work or actions causing a hostile environment, then IC may intervene and take preventive measures and inform/warn the parties involved to maintain the decorum at work.
Q: How to and who will decide if the suspect claims that it was not any kind of sexual harassment but just a friendly gesture and has been misunderstood by the complainant?
Law very clearly states that “it is the impact that matters and not the intent of the gesture”. Excuses such as friendly gesture or just for fun will not be acceptable. The IC is the only authority to inquire and understand the details of the incident/s. To understand more about this, please reach out to us at email@example.com.
Q: How do we handle false accusations?
No complaint should be termed as a ‘False Complaint’ unless all facts are established. Therefore, the IC will conduct a thorough inquiry to understand the case and then conclude whether the case was ‘genuine’, ‘malicious’ or ‘lacking evidence’.
Once the IC has established that the employee has raised a ‘Malicious complaint’ then it must recommend to the employer to take the necessary actions based on the existing company policy on ‘Fraudulent activities’, etc.
Q: What should the IC do when the allegations cannot be substantiated especially ‘when it is one person’s word against another’
In cases of ‘He says – She Says’, it is very difficult to understand the allegations and arrive at the perpetrator, simply because of the circumstance and the lack of the evidence. Even then, the IC has to do due diligence to procure various types of evidence, witness and establish the circumstances.
Not all cases need to be proven as ‘genuine’ or ‘false’. Complaints are registered and closed as ‘Lacking in evidence’. In such cases the respondent may be placed under observation for 6 months. As consultants, we recommend organisations to share the learning with the company so that employees can be aware that even unintentionally, they may be sexually harassing a person. It helps to create awareness so that employees can understand and act in a better manner.