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Can smileys sent on WhatsApp land you in trouble and cost you your job? Can it be termed as Sexual Harassment?
Yes, as per the recent BSNL Sexual harassment case filed by a lady employee in Tuticorin. The context, type of smiley sent, the frequency and time when the message was sent needs to be factored in.
As per the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act, 2013 (PoSH Act), Sexual harassment is defined as any behavior that is unwelcome, sexual in nature and the impact on the victim and not the intent of the perpetrator that matters. Sexual harassment can be in the form of Verbal comments, letters/mails; Non-verbal signals such as gestures, stalking or physical form of inappropriate touch of hair or body or clothing.
As per the Act, every organization with more than 10 employees, should be compliant with having the Policy, Internal Committee (IC) to handle comments, display posters on notice boards, create awareness to IC and Employees on Do’s and Don’ts and Submit Annual reports to the authorities.
The latest ‘The Viral Fever’ (TVF) case which created an uproar in the news was a classic example as to why organizations need to be compliant. An anonymous, ex-employee of TVF took to Social media to post her blog on the Harassment by her CEO, following which there were 50 others who complained on the CEO and acknowledged the anonymous post. The CEO denied these false allegations. TVF an upcoming startup did not give importance to the HR policies, was not compliant to the POSH Act and had not even formed an IC to handle complaints. With employees not knowing where to complaint, Social media and Press are easy source for employees to vent their helplessness. This TVF case may or may not be a false allegation, but the damage to the brand name is irrevocable.
As per the latest survey done by KelpHR, it is found that 22% of employees are victims to Sexual harassment, with 2% being men. The Survey also revealed that 40% of employees were not exactly clear with the definition of harassment and think that only physical form can be harassment. 50% of the victims did not trust their organization to file their compliant as they feared retaliation or loss of job. This is where the members of the IC and their role becomes very crucial in gaining the trust of the employees.
If you are Victim, it is essential to understand that it is not your fault and you should speak out and say a firm ‘No’ if you are not comfortable with a behaviour. Gather evidences, witness if the harassment continues, despite warning and file a complaint with your HR or IC. When in doubt, seek advice with your HR or manager or IC.
If you are Harasser, stop your behavior immediately. If you are not sure about your behaviour, check if you will behave in the same way in front of your family member. Excuses such as ‘my intent was misunderstood’, or ‘my feelings for the person was genuine’ or ‘it was just a casual comment, she/he should learn to enjoy the joke’ are not acceptable and may cost your job.
As Employers or CXO’s, it is highly essential for organizations to be compliant to provide a safe work environment for their employees and to protect your brand name. Excuses such as we have not had any incidents in the past or our employees are all well behaved, are not acceptable in the eyes of the law. Also, it does not cost much to be compliant to the Act as compared to damage a single case can do.
In India, we have a long way to go by setting the right organization work culture and commit towards a harassment free workplace.
Viji Hari is the author of Behind Closed Cubicles and a subject matter expert on the PoSH, she is also the CEO and cofounder of www.KelpHR.com. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org for any counselling on this topic.