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December 9th, 2013 chartered the commencement of a big rule-out in anti-sexual harassment laws in the legal system of India. The law projected how anti-sexual harassment has been placed in India and how people have been accepting it. With industries pluming in rapid expanse, corporates turned out to be a second home for employees, as more and more people spent more time in office than at home. Soon there developed a necessity for corporates to accept and incorporate this law seriously into their internal rulebook.

There have been a lot of changes since then. Corporates have been constantly analysing as to how sexual harassment issues impact them. The detailing in the anti-sexual harassment policy is vast. Hence some companies decided to work at granular levels of the same. Some companies even chose to break the monotony of anti-sexual harassment policies being a legal obligation on the papers of the frim and decided to incorporate them as a part of work culture and decorum.

On the other hand, corporates like Mphasis which were already followed these policies, affirmed the concept more clearly into their organizational framework. “Right before the law came into effect last year, we have been following a strong anti-sexual harassment policy. It’s been in practice for the past six plus years now where we have followed the guidelines provided by the Supreme Court as a result of the Vishaka guidelines”, affirmed Dr. Usha Subramanian, Head- Graduate Hiring and Technical learning, MphasiS. They showed the mark of a matured organization by conducting workshops and by building systems and processes that regulated the anti-sexual harassment guidelines internally. Corporates addressed 3 simple factors and built a model around them to architect a process for anti-sexual harassment. The two factors are discussed below:

Gender Neutrality                                                                                                                                                                  

Though the law and legal system puts women into the forefront, it has to be noted that Sexual harassment is a gender-neutral offense. Men can sexually harass women, and women can sexually harass men. Some corporates have also faced instances where men harass men and women harass women too. However, statistics show that the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment claims and charges are brought by women. Spokespeople from various organizations say that woman are more open in speaking out and reporting such event events, while men hesitate to do so. Speaking about the same, Dr. Usha Subramanian says “An organization does not discriminate whether the harassment is towards a woman or a man, which is again communicated in all our awareness activities.” Hence the stereotyping stands defined. Many corporates have termed such conduct to be illegal under company laws, reducing the chances of sexual harassment by a large extent.

Prevention Mechanism 

Corporates have taken a number of steps to reduce the risk of sexual harassment occurring in their workplace. Companies like GeBBS Healthcare have a POSH committee that maintains confidentialities and aids in not victimizing the person involved in the harassment.

“Induction and awareness sessions should be conducted through all levels of the organization so that each level is clear as to how to address and solve the cases of sexual harassment” says,
Ms.  Pooja Mehendale, VP – Human Resource, GeBBS Healthcare Solutions

Some major of the steps are as listed below:

Adoption of a clear anti-sexual harassment policySome companies issue employee handbooks that touches base on following objectives,

  • Definition of sexual harassment
  • Level of intolerance towards sexual harassment
  • Disciplinary action or employment termination measures for wrongdoers
  • The procedure for filing sexual harassment complaints
  • Investigative protocols for complaints received

Training employeesCorporates have been conducting annual training sessions for employees. These sessions teach employees what sexual harassment is, explain that employees have a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment, review complaint procedures, and also encourage employees to use it.

Training supervisors and managers– Some organizations have actively conducted training sessions for supervisors and managers that are separate from the employee sessions. The sessions aim to educate the managers and supervisors about sexual harassment and explain how to deal with complaints.

Kelp HR recently conducted a webinar that highlighted the ways in which corporates addressed sexual harassment in their work environment. Some of the key queries and answers for the same, have been listed below.

How do you ensure that the confidentiality is maintained the complainant is not victimized?

Confidentiality is maintained through a POSH committee that handles all the complaints and queries with an act of non-disclosure. Every employee is educated to approach the POSH committee if encountered with an act of sexual harassment.

When do you involve police law enforcement in cases of sexual harassment?

Prevention of sexual harassment does not involve the police authorities at all. This is something that happens within the organization and every organization should be equipped to handle it with a strong and robust process that addresses these issues. Bringing in the police is not the ultimate answer as these issues are elements of bad conduct, which can be corrected.

What if an incident of sexual harassment happens outside of office? How does the company deal with them?  

Imagine a corporate functioning in the first floor of a ten storey building and same corporate managing the cafeteria on the ninth floor, where all members of the building meet. An act of harassment which happens in the ninth floor is considered a harassment which has happened within the premises of the firm. Therefore the cafeteria is defined as an extended workplace. Companies chose to encapsulate their anti-harassment policies in these extended workplaces, mandating the rules to cab drivers, security, and housekeeping staff who increase the boundaries of a company’s presence.

Concluding the webinar, Dr. Usha Subramanian said, “Once we have enough proof that it was a case of sexual harassment triggered by the person accused, depending on the severity level, the penalty ranges from an apology to termination of job. Anti-sexual harassment is a reformatory process.”

“A lot of times, anti-sexual harassment is all about apology and does not lead to termination of job. But in certain cases when the severity is very high the termination is instant. While the procedure is executed by the HR, the report is submitted by the POSH committee”, concludes Ms Pooja Mehendale.

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