An Ideal Prevention of Sexual Harassment Policy for Organizations

Wed Aug 31, 2022

With the #MeToo movement coming to the forefront, the issue of sexual harassment at workplace has come into the spotlight. Sexual harassment at workplace affects women’s right to life and livelihood. It is a violation of fundamental rights of a woman to equality as per Articles 14 and 15 as well as the right to live with dignity as per the Article 21 of the Constitution of India. To protect and safeguard women at the workplace a strong sexual harassment law is critical.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 (also referred to as the POSH Act) is a much needed step for preventing gender based misconduct towards women at the workplace. The Act defines sexual harassment at the workplace and provides a mechanism for inquiry and eventual redressal of complaints.

Key provisions of POSH act to be complied by organizations

For complying with the POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) Act all organizations with more 10 or more employees are mandated to comply with the following provisions:

  • The organization should draft and implement an organization wide policy on Prevention of sexual harassment (POSH Policy).
  • The employment contracts should be updated to reflect the POSH policy.
  • An Internal Committee (IC) should be constituted to handle any sexual harassment complaints
  • Employees should undergo proper sexual harassment prevention training and awareness generation activities/programs about sexual harassment as well as the provisions entailed in the POSH policy.
  • An Annual Report on POSH Compliance should be submitted.

Components of an ideal POSH policy

A key aspect of the POSH ACT or sexual harassment law is that organizations must formulate and disseminate a policy against workplace sexual harassment. The policy should provide the processes and steps the organization is taking to implement POSH at the workplace.
An ideal POSH policy should apply to all employees as well as other stakeholders connected with the business. This includes suppliers, customers contractors etc. A POSH policy is formulated to g the customer, clients, suppliers, contractors, etc.

Some key components of a POSH policy are:

  • Clear objective: The purpose and objective of the policy must be clearly stated.
  • Definitions of key terms: The policy should clearly elucidate the definition of key terms to be used including sexual harassment, aggrieved woman, respondent, employee, workspace, employer etc. This ensures that there is no ambiguity when any incident is reported.
  • Proper coverage: The policy should clearly state who all come under its ambit i.e. are covered by its provisions. Both the aspects of ‘who does the POSH Policy apply to’ as well as ‘where does it apply to’ should be stated.
  • Clearly state what constitutes sexual harassment: The Policy should clearly define what actions constitute a sexual offence under the POSH Act.
  • Define roles and responsibilities: The roles and responsibilities of all individuals/employees covered under the Policy should be explained. This includes the responsibilities of employees in various circumstances and roles including if they are the aggrieved person, offending person, supervisor or witness etc
  • Details about the Internal Committee (IC) : The policy should provide information about the constitution of the committee as well as the details about the internal committee members
  • Procedure for filing and handling complaints: The POSH policy should cover the procedure to file the complaint in simple terms as well as the organization’s complaint handling procedure. Not only this, to be effective the policy should also contain details of the investigation process for complaints received along with the timelines to be adhered to as well as the procedure to communicate any findings from the investigation of complaints.
  • Details of interim relief: The policy can include any interim relief that can be provided to the complainant during the course of inquiry.
  • Resolution procedures: The policy should clearly provide details of resolution procedure both through conciliation as well as through formal enquiry.
  • Details of disciplinary measures: The policy should highlight all disciplinary measures, fines and penalties to be levied on the guilty party.
  • Appeal procedures: The policy should clearly state the appeal procedures available to the aggrieved parties.
  • Details on handling of malicious allegations: The policy should also list out the appropriate actions to be taken by the ICC in case it is found that the complaint registered is malicious or false.
  • Compensation procedures: The policy should provide details of organization’s compensation procedures for the complainant.
  • Confidentiality: The policy should include a confidentiality clause to protect the privacy of all parties. The policy should highlight that the identity of the complainant, respondent, witnesses, statements and other evidence obtained in the course of inquiry shall be considered confidential.

The POSH policy should ideally be circulated and shared with all employees. Increasingly organizations also make the policy a part of employer agreements and require the employees to officially acknowledge/sign the policy. It is always better to make the policy accessible to all employees of the organization and update them whenever there are any changes made to this policy.

It is also the responsibility of the organization to ensure employees are aware about the policy and its aspects. Thus an important aspect of drafting and implementing a strong POSH policy is conducting regular sexual harassment training for employees. Such trainings help in creating adequate awareness for the employees regarding what constitutes inappropriate behavior/ sexual harassment. They should also accurately reflect the principles and directions enunciated by the sexual harassment laws to enable employees to understand both organizational and legal aspects of the POSH policy.

The section 21 of the POSH Act 2013 has made it mandatory for the Internal Committee to file an annual report with the District Officer. Overall as per the recommendations of the POSH act the internal committee plays a very critical role in implementation. It is thus very important to impart right sexual harassment training to the internal committee members to sensitize them and enable them to fulfill their responsibilities effectively and efficiently.

Today POSH compliance is not a choice rather has become a legal and social obligation for organizations to ensure a safe and respectful work environment. Organizations should thus seek counsel from a professional sexual harassment lawyer who can help draft a personalised POSH policy which meets all government and legal norms.

IALM Academy offers posh act 2013 courses that effectively train all stakeholders on how to deal with sexual harassment in the context of the POSH act. Check the course here.

Jotwani Associates

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