The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, PoSH Law, mandates the employer to provide regular trainings on the subject. However, despite the training organizations provide their employees, there are still many misconceptions around the subject of Sexual Harassment.
One of the main reasons why sexual harassment at the workplace goes unreported is due to a lack of awareness. Misconceptions that employees hold about sexual harassment are a part of this.
Take a look at the top few misconceptions that employees hold.
Let’s assume a scenario:
Alexis is a high achieving employee, but often gets teased by her colleagues since she lacks a dating life. Her colleagues, Tina and Maria often tease her about her ‘dormant hormones’ and keep linking her name with some colleague or even clients she works with. What started as a joke between these three and has now become a standing joke across the office. This has been affecting Alexis but she is unaware of how to deal with it.
What Alexis is missing here is the knowledge that this act of teasing which started as a joke, is actually Sexual Harassment.
Myth: Sexual harassment can be complained against only when a physical act is done.
Fact: Any unwelcome act, conduct or behaviour; which is sexual in nature is sexual harassment. It can be verbal, non-verbal or physical.
Many sexual harassment cases go unreported due to a lack of awareness of what actually constitutes sexual harassment. Even an attempt to touch has been considered sexual harassment by the courts.
Myth: Only a man can harass a woman.
Fact: The Harasser can be of any gender.
Here in Alexis’ case, Tina and Maria were the ones sexually harassing Alexis with their comments about her personal life and gossiping about it. It was famously established in a Kolkata High Court judgment that though the law on Sexual harassment at Workplace protects only women (including trans-women); the protection is against all genders, including one’s own.
Myth: “If I didn’t object, I cannot complain!”
Fact: Confrontation is not a pre-emptive requirement before filing a complaint.
It is not necessary to object before lodging a complaint with the Internal Committee. But if the aggrieved / victim feels that they can talk to the person doing the improper act; then it is a healthy practice to engage in a conversation with them to make them understand the boundaries of professional conduct in maintaining a respectful workplace.
Myth: Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Law doesn’t apply when working from home.
Fact: Remote work / work from home is also covered under ‘workplace’ as defined by the Act.
The Law provides protection against sexual harassment at the ‘workplace’. Besides the general impression of workplaces which includes offices, it defines ‘workplaces’ as any such place visited by an employee arising out of or during the course of employment. Hence, even while working from home; since official interactions are done, remote work gets covered under the definition of ‘workplace’.
Myth: The law only protects women against Sexual Harassment, men cannot report sexual harassment.
Fact: All genders have protection against sexual harassment.
Though the law on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 protects only women, it does not bar organisations from creating a gender neutral PoSH Policy. Moreover, sexual harassment is a misconduct in employment laws and applies to everyone evenly. It is also a criminal offence under Indian Penal Code and all citizens are given equal protection. Hence, people of all genders are protected against any act/ conduct or behaviour of sexual harassment.
Myth: “If I complain, everyone will get to know about it!”
Fact: The PoSH Law provides complete confidentiality of the complaint and its redressal.
All names, addresses, details, communications, discussions and decisions are kept confidential and are known only to people who are part of the process, that too on a need-to-know basis. Confidentiality undertakings are signed by all parties to the complaint as a practice to ensure confidentiality. The law enables the employer to levy a penalty against any person who breaches confidentiality thus assuring its strict execution.
Myth: There is no action on false complaints or testimonies.
Fact: The Law provides for equal disciplinary action to be taken against anyone who files a false complaint or gives a false testimony as a witness.
Like sexual harassment, malicious or false complaints or testimony also have to be proven. Mere inability to prove a complaint of sexual harassment doesn’t make it malicious. But if malicious complaint/ testimony is proven it attracts disciplinary actions similar to sexual harassment such as warning, reprimand, withholding raise, suspension, transfer, termination etc.
To conclude, while the law on Sexual Harassment at Workplaces is a milestone in the journey of safe and conducive workplaces; it is imperative that we all play our part in building a respectful workplace. This starts with building awareness and knowing our rights and duties.
Do your bit and read your company policy. In case of any confusion, reach out to your organisation’s Internal Committee.