Busting Myths Around Posh Laws
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Fly-by-night operators looking to make a quick buck, instead of dispelling the myths, have only added to the volume of false information that’s out there. This paper seeks to dispel some of the more popular myths.
There has been a lot of anxiety around the fact that since women are afforded protection under the Act, there is bound to be serious misuse. Men fear that the Act will become an instrument to settle scores at the workplace. Five years on, those apprehensions still remain, although training and sensitization programs have helped allay some of those fears.
One of the biggest myths is that men aren’t afforded protection under the Act.
A Well-trained Internal Committee (IC): possessing powers of a civil court and having a balanced mix of employee members (male & female) as well as a neutral external member, is the best guarantor against misuse of the Act. The management of every organization now has a vested interest in ensuring that they have a well-trained IC that can hear and impartially adjudicate on matters of sexual harassment. It must be remembered that since the IC has to function as a court, they have to follow principles of natural justice (which requires them to hear both parties) and go by the evidence before them, prior to passing an order. The Act also affords both parties, the opportunity to file an appeal in a higher court, should they not agree with the ruling of the IC. Importantly, the Act makes the filing of false complaints punishable – that means anybody who is guilty of filing a false complaint can face the same punishment as one who is guilty of sexual harassment. This is an extremely important provision that can provide comfort against false complaints of sexual harassment. The period of limitation prescribed in the Act - a complaint can be filed only within a maximum time frame of 6 months from the date of the last incident of sexual harassment – also minimizes chances of misuse of the Act.
Is It Only For The Females?
What most people are unaware of is the fact that the Act doesn’t just protect women who are employees – but also protects women who are customers, visitors, vendors, consultants, interns etc. Therefore, most organizations need to train their IC’s to hear complaints of sexual harassment even if they are from women who aren’t on the rolls of that company. This is a good segue into another myth – we have very few or no female employees, therefore we don’t need to comply. The Act makes it mandatory for every organization with more than 10 employees to comply. There are absolutely no exceptions. Non-compliance has serious repercussions – including on the brand of the organization in addition to penalties that may be imposed under the Act.
The other myth with respect to the Act deals with the definition of a Workplace. Most employers & employees are unaware that the workplace has been given a very liberal definition and also covers incidents of sexual harassment that occurs outside the office. Even if two employees are out at a pub, restaurant etc. on their own accord and one of them faces sexual harassment at the hands of the other, that place becomes a workplace within the meaning of the Act as their relationship has arisen out of their employment with their organization.
The Act has made it mandatory for every organization to create awareness –therefore every organization must ensure adequate training to all its employees which must include dispelling of myths with respect to the Act, as well as help in gender sensitization, highlight rights, duties and responsibilities of every employee.