sexual harassment laws

This article is written by Yavanika ShahTeam LawSikho.

One of the big myths about sexual harassment policies implementation in workplaces is that it is a robotic implementation of the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. 

In reality, it is much more than that. 

Sexual harassment has severe reputational implications for any organization. In some industries, commercial damage follows reputational damage very quickly. 

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Hence, the mode of implementation of the provisions of the POSH Act has to be customized for such industry sectors. 

These industries also have varied and bigger budgets for implementation. 

We list down a few of the industries where the POSH consultant needs to implement certain customizations so that they can cater to the industry in a better way. 

We have used the example of employee sensitizations, but other functions also correspondingly need customization. 

This is precisely where trained POSH consultants step in to add value.     

#1 Educational Institutions (Schools & Colleges) 

In 2016, the University Grants Commission came up with its regulations in relation to the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace specifically addressing the universities (see here).

This regulation describes the responsibilities of higher educational institutions in taking measures for the prevention of sexual harassment. 

This is a different framework as compared to the 2013 Act. For example, complaints committees in universities require student representation. Sexual harassment is gender-neutral under the regulations, as compared to the POSH Act, 2013 where it is woman-centric. 

A few other customizations that are desirable when working in an educational institute can be:

  1. Sensitize the employees and particularly, the students at large on the zero intolerance towards this issue.
  2. A guideline for “Ethics for research supervision” should be drafted, along with the usual POSH documents as students of research and doctoral studies are more vulnerable to sexual harassment.
  3. Ensure that students are aware of the redressal system, and the authorized persons to contact and report such issues.
  4. Since an education setting deals with a huge number of employees and students at once, setting up complaint boxes placed in accessible locations is one way to accelerate prompt complaints from everyone.

#2 Hotels 

Hotels are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment at the workplace since it is a more customer-centric workplace where the basic demand of the job is to be customer friendly at all times.

The training part against the sexual harassment laws is, therefore, the most complex part of implementing POSH at the hotels, since it shall cater the most to how any sexual harassment is taken care of. The following aspects are not only to be part of training, but must be included in sexual harassment policies themselves: 

  • The POSH training at hotels should ensure that the employees are thoroughly trained about the design layout of the hotel. Any kind of panic button in the hotel should be brought to their notice and a proper roadmap regarding contacting security in cases where any guest harasses.

  • The female employees specifically, who cater to guests should be trained regarding the techniques they can use in cases of any misbehavior. Further, assistance to the women employees in reporting these cases should be the prime concern of the hotel management.

  • The usual focus of hospitality is to make guests happy and give them what they want, but if a guest is harassing or threatening, safety must take priority. Remind employees that, if they feel unsafe, they should leave the room, even if they haven’t completed their work. And let them know not to return to the room before security addresses the situation.

  • Train your employees to stand up straight, and make eye contact with a guest who is speaking to them or walking toward them. If a guest uses sexually explicit language or tries to touch them, they need to know they can firmly tell him to stop.

#3 Hospitals

Hierarchies in healthcare put employees at high risk for workplace sexual harassment. Recently, in September, a hospital was fined 25 lakhs rupees for not having an ICC in place. Let us see how can hospitals customize their POSH implementations:

  • Clear, solid policies and even more importantly, procedures and communication for reporting any problems around the hospital, including potential harassment.

  • The procedures for reporting need to be such that staff knows things will be managed in confidence and there will be no retribution.

  • A pertinent aspect of POSH implementation in hospitals is the situation of dealing with patients as the harassers. Most sexual harassment policies focus on employees and their interpersonal interactions, but the healthcare environment adds the element of patient and caregiver interactions that are also applicable to sexual harassment laws. Patients and their caregivers may be the harassers or victims of harassment.

  • The complex personal interactions of a hospital setting should be kept in mind while drafting the policy as in some cases, patients who have traumatic brain injuries, dementia, may lack appropriate self-control or awareness that results in inappropriate behavior towards healthcare staff, for which, in the end, the employer is responsible.

  • Very often, caregivers and doctors have unusual power and influence over patients. Aso, medical personnel often need to disrobe patients or deal with their sexual organs for medical purposes. For instance, examination of a rape victim and two finger test has caused massive controversies in the past. The disbalanced power dynamics, as well as specially sensitive situations, must be dealt with in the policy and training. 

#4 Malls

A recent survey showed that while media attention has largely focused on the prevalence of sexual harassment in politics and media, its pervasiveness across all industries, but particularly in ones with a high number of service-sector workers is astoundingly high. 

Malls and Shopping centers, again, being a service-centric industry are more prone to sexual harassment from the customer-dealings they come across.

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Adding to this is the uncertainty that may surround a sexual harassment incident for employees in a shopping complex space. The sexual harassment in these spaces sometimes becomes so frequent that the employees might normalize it by being desensitized to the situation. 

It is prudent to train the employees, especially the women employees about ways to tackle any hints of sexual harassment that they might come across and report it as soon as they can to the authorities. 

#5 Media & Entertainment Industry (Shoots, Newspapers, Journalists, etc.)

Media and Entertainment Industry is the most talked-about industry every time we talk about sexual harassment at workplace complaints. It is mostly because of the temporary nature of the employees that work here. 

Media and entertainment is a very relationship-driven industry. The rewards in terms of money, visibility, and influence are controlled by a few gatekeepers, and as a result, the abuse of power and vulnerability of people working here is more prone to sexual harassment.

Further, the people that work in the industry usually work on a contractual basis. The ‘extras’ are hired on a day to day basis. This makes the accountability of the acts of the people in power a lot more invisible. This further incentivizes non-reporting of sexual harassment cases in this sector, particularly.

A way forward is drafting a Code of Conduct that can be signed by all the stakeholders. It can be made a part of contractual documentation of any person who is hired in any project even temporarily. It could specify timely steps to address allegations of harassment, discrimination, and violence in the workplace.

These are a few industries where customization in terms of implementation of the POSH law is the need of the hour.

We have primarily discussed customization of employee sensitization training and policy above, but other responsibilities of an expert also change in a significant way. 

Examples of customization include:

  • Situation-specific training for ICC members (on hearing, decision-making, conducting inquiries, etc.), 
  • Creation of operating manuals and SOPs for ICCs, 
  • Management onboarding sessions for CXOs, 
  • Consultation calls and helplines for doubt-clearing with respect to ongoing cases, 
  • Upgradation of processes and policies, 
  • Review and design of communication to the team members  

Since sexual harassment is highly sensitive in these industries, such organizations can be convinced to have larger budgets for implementation, if experts are able to demonstrate additional value. 

What other industries do you think that requires expert guidance on implementation of POSH?

Let us know by commenting below or call us at 01133138901. Let us discuss how you can build a thriving practice around POSH implementation.

We have launched an upgraded course on sexual harassment law at the workplace which includes 12 instructor-led classrooms, weekly exercises on simulations and feedback on the same. 

You will practice conducting mock hearings, summoning witnesses, collection and appreciation of evidence, documentation of proceedings and writing down various kinds of decisions and recommendations in these exercises. 

Those who want to find out more about this program can visit the link here.

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