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Here's How Companies Are Ensuring Women's Workplace Safety The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, (POSH Act) directs all employers with 10 and more employees to constitute an Internal Committee (IC) with a 50-50 men-women ratio and a woman head

By Soumya Duggal

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"Right after joining the company, I was introduced to the official policy on women's workplace safety as part of the induction training. It was a first in my nearly decade-long career. I was pleasantly surprised," says Manpreet Kaur, a public relations manager at one of the country's top EV ride-hailing startups.

The company in question—Gurugram-based BluSmart Mobility—claims to conduct regular training sessions and awareness camps to sensitize its employees about the need for a safe and pleasant work culture for all genders, especially women as they are often at the receiving end of a variety of workplace abuse­—verbal, emotional, physical, sexual and so on.

"BluSmart has adopted POSH policies at each subsidiary level and constituted Internal Committees (ICs) at each subsidiary and location level where women employees are engaged. These ICs are peopled by sensitive, senior and mature members. Moreover, under our 'terms of employment', we have also specifically set out an act of sexual harassment (as defined by the POSH law) as misconduct which can result in termination," explains Sucharita Reddy, presiding officer, IC, BluSmart.

The POSH Act, 2013: Implications

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, (POSH Act) directs all employers with 10 and more employees to constitute an Internal Committee (IC) with a 50-50 men-women ratio and a woman head.

Like many conscientious companies, logistics unicorn Shiprocket claims to not only follow the law to a T but also go the extra mile to maximise its impact. "In addition to having a well-equipped IC, we also conduct mixed group sessions on the POSH act to take cultural ownership of the issue: managers of each team, along with external subject matter experts, discuss the latest cases in the industry and their interpretation by judicial bodies," states Saumya Khati, senior vice-president and head HR, Shiprocket.

The victims of workplace harassment are often unable to register complaints as the offender is usually a person of authority who is much more influential and well-regarded in the organisation. To counter such apprehensions about prejudice and hostility, companies take a number of measures: accepting anonymous complaints and keeping the complainant's identity confidential in case they come forward; conducting thorough investigations; reassuring complainants that they will not be retaliated against and that their complaints will be taken seriously; taking punitive actions if complaints are found to be substantial.

Although the law has driven many companies to make their workplaces safer, compliance with it remains rather wanting—perhaps best exemplified in recent time by the Wrestlers Federation of India (WFI) reportedly flouting the law's provisions as the country's senior sportspersons have levelled serious allegations of sexual abuse against coaches and the WFI president. Moreover, a recent study by Stratefix Consulting, in collaboration with the National Human Resource Development (NHRD), has revealed a severe lack of awareness about the POSH Act among respondents—only eight percent knew of the law prior to 2021.

Notably, while the law focuses on female victims of sexual harassment, given the long history of discrimination and abuse against women, the very concepts of abuse and gender are currently undergoing radical revisions. "What constitutes sexual harassment and who can be perpetrators and victims needs to be understood very expressly. In this context, gender inclusivity is becoming increasingly important. Although the law does not require it, we have implemented a gender-neutral policy to create a work environment that treats all team members with dignity and respect," states Sandesha Jaitapkar, CHRO, Artha Group.

Soumya Duggal

Former Feature Writer

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