As the #MeToo movement gains momentum, more and more women are finding their voice against sexual harassment at workplace. Yet, not many are aware of how strong the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) law in India is or how it empowers them. This reflects in lack of legal action against the predators. Before 2013, women did not have much to hold on to except a set of Vishakha Guidelines. In 2013, taking into account the recommendations of Justice Verma committee, Indian parliament enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act. Here’s what every woman must know about POSH law.
What is the definition of Sexual Harassment at Workplace?
Sexual Harassment is any physical, verbal or non-verbal act which is:
1. Sexual in nature
Contrary to most people’s understanding, sexual harassment is not confined to inappropriate physical advances. It includes:
1. Making sexual remarks about women
2. A demand for sexual favors
3. Watching/Showing pornography in presence of women
4. A promise for raise/promotion in exchange of a sexual favor (implied or explicit)
5. A threat of detrimental treatment in absence of sexual favor (implied or explicit)
6. Creating intimidating or humiliating work environment
Please note that one of the most significant determining factors for sexual harassment is the term UNWELCOME.
Who does the law apply to?
The ‘Right to Work with Dignity’ is a universally recognized human right. It applies to women of any age and extends to entire India irrespective of whether a woman works full time, part time or on daily wages.
What are the salient features of this law that empower women
1. An Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) to handle sexual harassment complaints is mandatory for any organization with more than 10 employees. Any employer who fails to do so is liable for a penalty of up to Rs 50,000/- . In absence of an ICC a woman can go to Local Complaints Committee of her district.
2. An organization must provide to all its employees a clear written POSH policy along with procedure and timeline and contact details of ICC members.
3. The complainant’s identity is to be kept confidential by the organization.
4. If a woman is unable to write complaint on her own, an organization is required to provide her assistance in filing written complaint.
5. A complainant has the right to receive a copy of alleged offender’s statement and any evidence provided by him.
A woman can reach out directly to the NGO member/external member on the ICC if she fears her company may show bias against her.
6. A woman has the right to 90 days of leave during the pendency of an inquiry.
8. A woman can seek transfer to another department during the pendency of an inquiry.
9. The accused can examine the written transcripts but does not have the right to cross-examine the aggrieved woman or witnesses directly.
10. If a woman is not satisfied with the outcome of ICC proceedings she retains the right to take her complaint to a regular court.
Despite strong laws protecting women, most of them desist from reporting harassment. An awareness of their rights and law, along with the impetus gained through the #MeToo movement could be the game changer.
(Mriganka Dadwal is a former-Journalist, Activist & Founder of SLAP. She serves as external NGO member on board Internal Complaints Committee for several corporates in India)