No doubt – This is from the Horses Mouth!!
As a commitment to society and itself, KelpHR has been at the helm of understanding the nuances of Anti- Sexual Harassment Law in India, its implementation, progress and the acceptance in the corporate world.
This time, we have hit the nail on its head!!
We had the most enlightening conversation with Harshada Patil, who is a professional NGO worker and is on the ICC panel for many organisations and assisting on reported cases of Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace. Our conversation with her, has revealed many angles of this policy that will benefit ICC members, in particular.
To begin with, an often misunderstood aspect is the ‘Types of Sexual Harassment’ and how it is viewed. So, to clarify and classify, we could picturise it this way :
All these 4 levels are further associated with 4 situations at the Workplace :
- Preferential Treatment : This includes giving preference to a woman employee as she accepts and welcomes sexual behaviour from her other employees. E.g. : An employee being given special privileges and treatments like leaves, incentives, promotion, etc due to the sexual relationship with the supervisor.
- Detrimental Treatment : This indicates behaviour shown to a woman employee who has refused to tolerate any level of sexual harassment, being treated in a manner that adverse effect to her rights in the organisation. Eg : An employee being denied of a rightful promotion due to the refusal to a sexual relationship.
- Creating a Hostile Environment : This indicates that a woman employee faces a workplace that makes her uncomfortable due to the sexual overtones in the various behaviours of other employees. Eg : Labeling a person due to her physical features, making sexual hand gestures as a woman employee walks by, taking picture of a woman employee and posting it on FB without her permission, sending SMS’s with sexual connotations, etc
- Contractual Labor : The law categorically states that every employer is responsible for the various types of employees including part-time, contractual – be it direct or indirect. Therefore, if a contract employee is harassed at the workplace and it’s brought to the notice of the ICC in writing, the ICC is responsible for inquiring, concluding and providing recommendations to the employer.
What, therefore, is the approach of the ICC, in the above situation, is clearly determined by multiple factors :
- Do you have your Management buy-in i.e. do they walk the talk? and talk the walk?
- Does the ICC have a matrix in their policy that guides them to classify the problem? And therefore the Disciplinary procedure associated with certain behaviours?
- Do the ICC members have a neutral standpoint as they approach a case of Sexual Harassment?
- Do they have an understanding of consensual relationships which proceeds to being a Sexual Harassment at the Workplace? (This is a reality and employers and ICC members have to understand and handle the matter with much maturity.)
- As an ICC member, is there awareness/ interest in the various developments in this field? E.g Cases covered by media and developments made by other organisations, etc
- How much of ‘Prevention and Prohibition’ related activities have been conducted in the recent past? Eg: Awareness programs, posters, policy availability, etc
These are blaring questions facing the ICC as they progress in their role. In the absence of clarity, there arises many inconsistencies in the understanding of the law, reported case and recommendations made to the the Head of the organisation.
Technology – A boon or abane?
As we explore the matter further , we cannot ignore the role of technology in this matter especially due to the speed with which information is available for all. As pointed out by Mrs Patil, channels like Facebook, WhatsApp are definitely a boon as they document every conversation and retrieval of this data is possible, at the enquiry stage.
As ICC members, one has the rights of the civil court and can examine messages shared, call records, email, chat messages, etc. Every ICC member should therefore, be vigilant of these channels to understand the case better.
In the absence of the ‘Prevention and Prohibition’ related activities, what emerges, surprisingly, is the lack of knowledge of the policy – which therefore, can then be connected to the mis-use of the policy or malicious complaints.
As much as malicious complaints are only few in number, it definitely shows the lack of understanding and respect for the many organisations that worked relentlessly to make this law available to the Indian women. Therefore, the plea of experts who conduct awareness programs, is that this policy should not be mis-used for personal vengeance.
Challenging of Evidence and Witnesses – Shouts or Sensible Conversations?
While the law allows for cross examination of all evidence presented, by the respondent and the aggrieved employee, there are instances when this discussion can turn out to be unruly.
However it is a good and recommended method during gross inconsistencies between statements of the aggrieved employee and respondent
Ground rules need to be established by the ICC for evidence and witnesses to be presented for questions. Both parties can then follow the protocol and work in a manner that allows for all members to understand the case better.