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This article is written by Shraddha Abhijit Yadav, pursuing Certificate Course in Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace from Lawsikho. The article has been edited by Zigishu Singh (Associate, LawSikho) and Ruchika Mohapatra (Associate, LawSikho).

Introduction

In today’s world, both men and women have equal opportunities for work available. It has been observed that people working at different levels especially females, to be more specific, suffer from sexual harassment at the workplace. In the past few years, the number of sexual harassment cases has increased. After the Vishakha case, in 1997, the Supreme Court formulated the Vishaka guidelines making it mandatory for organisations, whether working in the private or public sector to establish a mechanism for redressal of sexual harassment complaints. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act (hereinafter the Act), was passed in 2013 which is an Act to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at the workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) training has been made compulsory in India since 2013 when the Act was passed. According to the Act, any company/organization with more than 10 employees should have mandatory POSH training for all their employees and employers.

What is POSH training?

In order to ensure that the employees can easily differentiate between what is correct and incorrect behaviour, POSH training is necessary. It also throws light on the legal aspect of the POSH Act. The Act is extremely helpful for female employees who have to face sexual harassment at the workplace as the POSH Act defines the scope of the Act, rules and action plan for the same. The main aim of POSH training is to educate the employees about the law that governs sexual harassment and thereby prevent any such instances in future. Training gives employees a clear idea about what type of behaviour can fall under sexual harassment.

Why is it necessary?

The employee may not always be a victim. He/ she can also be a culprit. Posh training not only helps the employees to seek justice if they suffer from sexual harassment but also to prevent them from being charged wrongfully. Only when the employees receive formal training they will be able to understand what sexual harassment at the workplace means. It helps the employees to understand which acts are not professionally acceptable at the workplace.

When the employees of a company indulge in sexual harassment, the employer under whom they are working can be held legally responsible for the same. Its always beneficial to provide harassment training, create anti-harassment policies and create a no tolerance workplace rather than defending oneself in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Reasons why it is mandatory for employers to conduct POSH training

Legal mandate

The Sexual Harassment Act(Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) which was passed in 2013 made it mandatory for every employer vide Section 4 who has more than 10 employees in his organization to form an Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) and to provide POSH training to the employees in order to create awareness about POSH and understand legal provisions for the same. The Act under Section 26 prescribes a penalty of Rs 50,000 to be levied on the employer if he fails to comply with the same.

Awareness

Workshops and awareness programs should be conducted on regular basis to make the employees aware of what type of behaviour falls under sexual harassment and vice versa. Awareness programs should be conducted for all the employees at different levels irrespective of their gender and position in the organization. The training for the employees should cater to the perceptions’ of sexual harassment, its impact on individuals and organizations, why should it be prevented and how should it be prevented, understanding the policy and complaints mechanism. This will ensure the employer that the work environment is healthy and will never turn hostile. 

Safe working environment

When the employees are well trained about what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour it minimizes the chances of sexual harassment complaints. Employees feel safe, working with the organization when they understand that the organization is actively involved in training employees. It sends a strong message to the employees that such behaviour will not at all be tolerated in the company and they have to take utmost care as to how to behave and what is unacceptable behaviour.

To safeguard the company’s reputation

The reputation of the company is at stake if an incident of sexual harassment takes place and it may hamper the company’s reputation. It will create a negative impact on the employees as well. Thus by providing POSH training the management can ensure that they are in the best position to tackle any such incident if it takes place and prevents it from getting leaked.

To increase employee retention

A safe working environment, free from sexual harassment will ensure high productivity and performance from the employees as the employees are aware that they are protected and will also lead to employee retention. Everyone is willing to work in an environment which is free from any type of verbal and physical abuse, mental torture and lewd comments.

Steps for effective training

Conducting POSH training requires special skills as it is not like conducting any other training. If the training is not undertaken in the right way it may create fear in the minds of male employees and female employees may misunderstand it to be an instrument to lodge false complaints and may misuse it for their selfish gains.

Every organization is different. Their culture, work ethics, no of employees, male-female ratio everything differs. Several things should be kept in mind while providing POSH training for any organization. Some of the things that need to be kept in mind are:

  1. Knowledge about the culture of the company.
  2. Understanding the diversity and going through the strategic plan.
  3. Getting insights on employee demographics.
  4. Understanding the challenges a company is facing as far as employees behaviour is concerned.
  5. Seeking clarity on business, workflow, kinds of customers, vendors and suppliers.
  6. Thorough knowledge about the company’s sexual harassment-related policy.
  7. Insight into who are the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)members.
  8. Being aware of the structure of the  Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)
  9. Knowledge about any standard email-id company is using for POSH related complaints.
  10. Understanding from the management the message they want to convey at the end.

Though the POSH Act remains the same, what makes the difference is the delivery. Many are still not very open and comfortable to talk about sexual harassment openly. A trainer must understand and analyze the social background of his audience. It helps in framing relatable examples and which in turn results in connecting with audiences effectively.

How to design the POSH training module?

Create mobile-first training modules

POSH training must be mandatory for every single employee in the organization, may that be a junior-level employee or the top-level management. If a mobile-friendly POSH module is created, it will be easily accessible to all the employees, more employees can be trained in one single go and it also provides the flexibility of time to the employees as they can access the material as per their convenient time and read the same as many times as they want. Since the content of a mobile training module is short and crisp it becomes easy for the employees to go through the same quickly and remember the information learnt.

Define the types of harassment

Make people understand what constitutes sexual harassment. There are times when the victims aren’t sure if they must complain, they’re unsure if what they have faced could be termed as sexual harassment or not. It could be a verbal comment, a suggestive joke, quid pro quo etc.

The incident doesn’t necessarily have to occur within the workplace, it could be at a social gathering organized by the company, business trip, via electronic communication such as SMS, email, telephonic conversation etc. Or the situation could be vice versa, some employees might not realize that their actions are creating an intimidating and hostile environment.

In order to avoid any confusion and to keep everyone on the same page, you must define the types of sexual harassment so that everyone is conscious and well aware of their actions and try to create a safe and healthy workspace.

Create scenario-based or animated content

Humans have a good pictorial memory. It becomes easy to understand something explained with the help of pictures instead of text. For a better and in-depth understanding of the situations, scenario-based learning modules will be the most effective. The employees can be given scenarios and several options to choose from, so that they know what constitutes sexually offensive behaviour. In order to keep the users engaged in the training program, making use of graphics, animation and moving images can be highly effective. Animation makes it easy to understand the right and wrong behaviour at the workplace. It can create a greater impact by keeping the audience engaged and also help in the high retention of information. It will enable to create a culture of mutual understanding and equal opportunity for the employees.

Create interactive quizzes

Creating interactive quizzes to check your employees’ understanding once they have taken POSH training is highly recommended. It can be in the form of MCQs, Yes or No type questions in between the chapters. This will make sure that the learners have understood the concept well, which was explained in the course module and also are completely aware of the repercussions of misbehaviour with their colleagues. Mobile learning modules should be created in such a way that when someone takes a quiz, after the final submission the answers are immediately available for the instructor to evaluate. Thus the response of each employee can be viewed by the trainer and instant feedback can be provided.

Get in-depth analytics

It is important that an analytics feature is included in your delivery platform. Each employee’s level of understanding and progress can be easily gauged with the help of an analytical report. It will provide an in-depth analysis of how many employees have taken the course, appeared for the test (taken the quiz)and performed well in the same. It is a necessary step to make sure that every employee in the organization has undergone POSH training and is fully aware of the types and consequences of sexual harassment at the workplace. Rather than getting tentative data about employees performance, the exact information can be fetched by this, which can further be used in order to make required changes in the POSH module after checking its efficacy. An effective POSH training module can be designed and delivered with the help of a detailed analytics report.

Set up a redressal forum

Your employees must be aware of whom to approach if they face harassment at the workplace. Every organization is expected to comply with the POSH law, and non-compliance could lead to monetary penalties for the employer. You could set up an online platform where employees could come forth with their complaints without any hesitation. Ensure that your employees are aware of the redressal forum in your organization, and also of other online complaint portals such as SHe-Box (Sexual Harassment Electronic Box).

According to  Section 4 of the Act, every organization must have a POSH redressal forum. In case of any complaints, the employee is expected to approach the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) established within your organization.

A minimum of four members are needed to form the ICC, and the composition should include a senior woman employee employed at the workplace/or belonging to any other organization if the workplace does not have a senior woman employee and two employees at the workplace who have awareness in gender issues or social work or committed to the cause of women or have legal knowledge.

An external member must also be appointed who is associated with an NGO, is a social worker, or someone who is familiar with issues/laws relating to sexual harassment.

Increase awareness across the organization

It is extremely important that all the employees working in the organization have knowledge about the rules of the POSH Act, penalties and point of contact. According to Section 9 of the Act, a sexual harassment complaint needs to be filed within three months after the incident has taken place. The culprit can be charged with a fine. Any breach of confidentiality regarding the complainant and connected information will result in a penalty which will be collected by the employer. In order to increase awareness, companies can conduct workshops for safety and self –defence at regular intervals, and send emails emphasizing the importance of a safe working environment. If people are not aware of the law such incidents will take place again and again which will hamper the reputation of the organization and people working for the same. A female who has, or is facing harassment should not refrain from lodging a complaint out of the fear of humiliation or her image getting tarnished. Females should feel absolutely safe at the workplace and the organization should make sure that everyone is aware that sexual harassment in any form will not be tolerated and immediate and strict action will be taken against the perpetrator. Ensure that the company has a well-constituted ICC which fulfils all the requirements given under the POSH Act and complies with all the rules of POSH law.

Conclusion

POSH training is necessary to foster a respectful and safe working environment for women. One incident is enough to create a bad reputation for the company and to ruin the career of the accused employee. So, you must ensure that your employees are sensitized about the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

References

  1. https://www.ungender.in/the-six-elements-of-effective-anti-sexual-harassment-training/
  2. https://muds.co.in/importance-of-posh-training-for-employees-and-management-in-a-company/

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