By Amoolya Narayan and VNS Meenakshi
Sexual harassment is a deeply sensitive issue, laden with societal stigma and profound implications for both the accused and the victim. Preserving confidentiality in sexual harassment reporting procedures is paramount to safeguarding the privacy and dignity of the individuals involved. By ensuring confidentiality, we can create an environment that empowers victims to come forward, seek justice, and avoid potential negative consequences resulting from their accusations.
Confidentiality and Principles of Natural Justice
We are sometimes asked by clients how confidentiality works when all the details of the complainant and the complaint are shared with the respondent. Section 16 of the PoSH law states that confidentiality has to be maintained with respect to the identity of the victim and details of the incident with regard to the media and the public. Here, we define public as any third parties who are not stakeholders in the complaint, and includes other employees as well. Respondents have the right to all the details of the complaint in order to be able to respond to it effectively. Otherwise, it may violate a principle of natural justice which states that ‘no man shall be condemned unheard’. Not giving someone adequate opportunity to respond to a complaint effectively is tantamount to them going unheard or being denied a fair hearing.
In cases of sexual harassment, the personal details and experiences shared by the parties involved can be intimate and highly sensitive. Disclosing such information to peers or the public can subject victims to further humiliation, discrimination. Upholding confidentiality provides a safe and secure space for victims to report incidents, encouraging them to seek justice without fear of reprisal. Respecting the right to privacy not only protects individuals but also fosters a culture of trust and support, allowing victims to share their experiences openly and honestly.
Ensuring Fair and Impartial Investigations
Confidentiality plays a pivotal role in conducting fair and impartial investigations into sexual harassment allegations. By handling cases with strict confidentiality, we can ensure a thorough examination of the facts without undue influence or pressure. Maintaining confidentiality minimises the risk of external interference or manipulation that could compromise the integrity of the investigation process. It enables investigators to analyse the evidence objectively, gather witness testimonies, and arrive at just conclusions, free from biases or external factors.
Preserving Professionalism and Dignity in the Workplace
It is possible that the complainant may break confidentiality in an attempt to secure witness testimony. It is possible that a witness to break confidentiality and reveal case details to other members in the organization under the impression that the IC has been prejudiced. It is possible that the respondent may break confidentiality to undermine the inquiry being undertaken by the IC, or to garner support for their own position. The IC should handle such breaches with an even hand. Any such unauthorized disclosure has the ability to compromise the IC’s ability to deliver justice. The law provides that a person can be fined Rs. 5,000 for any breach of their obligation towards confidentiality.
Revealing the identities of the complainant and respondent in sexual harassment cases can have detrimental effects on the work environment. It can create discomfort, hostility, and a sense of unease among employees. This, in turn, negatively impacts working relationships, productivity, and overall well-being. By upholding confidentiality, organizations foster an atmosphere where individuals can carry out their work with dignity, free from unnecessary scrutiny or judgment from colleagues. It ensures that victims and accused individuals can continue to contribute professionally without compromising their reputations or facing undue professional consequences.
Confidentiality forms the cornerstone of effective sexual harassment reporting procedures. By prioritizing confidentiality, organizations and individuals create a safe and supportive environment that empowers victims to come forward, ensures fair and impartial investigations, and protects the privacy and dignity of all parties involved. Upholding confidentiality rights not only aligns with legal frameworks but also fosters a workplace culture that encourages trust, empathy, and respect. Let us recognize the importance of confidentiality and work collectively to address sexual harassment while preserving the fundamental rights and well-being of every individual.
KelpHR was incorporated in 2013 to provide the best HR solutions to organizations, and to improve workplace culture across the board. Over the last 10 years, we have serviced more than 700 clients in India and a few overseas, across various industries in the areas of PoSH (prevention of sexual harassment at workplace), D, E & I (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) and EAP. But the common objective of all of these services is to build safer, happier, incl usive and productive workplaces.
For our services related to Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH), Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (D,E &I)or Employee Assistance programs (EAP) do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call +91-95001-29652 and we’d be able to help you with customized offerings suited to your organization.