Rupa, an HR Manager, was winding up her work for the day, when she received an unexpected call from the Head-HR, Arka. Arka asked Rupa to accompany him to a branch office the next day, as part of the Internal Complaints Committee (IC), as an allegation of sexual harassment against the Branch Head required an IC member unfamiliar with both parties. Arka instructed Rupa to maintain strict confidence – to not share the details of the investigation even with her immediate boss, Som.
The investigation proved to be a great learning experience for Rupa. As she entered her cubicle the following day, Som rushed in asking ‘Hey Rupa, how was the investigation? I never knew that Alfred and his secretary were going around! They apparently took a private vacation to the Andamans? It is good that he is being asked to leave.’
Taken aback with Som’s insight into the case, Rupa blurted – ‘But Arka told me not to share any details.’
Som condescendingly said ‘Arka only told me this. You can tell me, don’t worry.’ Seeing Rupa hesitate, Som snapped – ‘Don’t worry. I’ll ask Arka directly.’
Why did Arka tell Som about the confidential details of a high-profile investigation? Was this IC equipped to deal with cases of such sensitivity? She received no special training to become an IC member – Was this how it was meant to be?
Rupa’s experience is unfortunately not a one-off case? Sadly, there are many IC teams like hers. And it is so because
Why is instituting a competent IC a challenge?
- Identifying IC members
The ‘Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013,’ mandates that the IC tasked to redress sexual harassment complaints must:
- Comprise a minimum of 4 members where half are women
- Include an external member from an NGO or who works for the cause of women
- The Presiding officer needs to be a senior female employee of the organization
- Two of its members need to be employees committed to the cause of women or have legal or social-work related experience
IC composition is very significant. Because, there have been instances where one of the parties has appealed to a court of law disagreeing with the IC’s conclusion, and the court has identified poor IC constitution as one of the causes for misgovernance of the case.
IC members need to be chosen with great consideration. For, if either party alleges bias by IC member(s), a new committee may need to be constituted, threatening to derail the entire process of the investigation.
Members should hold unblemished records of integrity, be capable of withstanding pressure by superiors and from parties with vested interests, and unbiasedly yet sensitively deal with complaints of sexual harassment.
For SMEs, getting the right composition with these capabilities is a challenge given the smaller pool they choose from.
Industries with high rates of attrition, face an additional task of replacing IC members who quit.
- Training IC members
In many aspects, the IC has powers akin to those vested in a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 – for instance, summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person and the discovery and production of documents, etc. Compared to those effecting judicial processes being highly trained and experienced, IC members are, on the contrary, expected to deliver a fair trial with hardly any experience in the field and bare minimal training.
Hence, in-depth training is essential to equip the IC to effectively handle a fair trial, appreciate evidence, overcome bias, and differentiate the kinds of harassment.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development has provided in-depth training material on the SheBox website.
Given the pivotal role that IC plays in delivering fairness in investigations around sexual harassment, organizations must identify the right IC members and invest in providing them with the necessary training.