A Brief overview of PoSH Compliance
PoSH stands for Prevention of Sexual Harassment. The PoSH Act was introduced to prevent and protect women against sexual harassment at workplaces in India. Hence under this act, every organization need to comply with the regulations set forth in the PoSH Act. In case of npon-compliance, heavy monetary penalty can be imposed.
List of PoSH Compliance
Broadly, PoSH Compliance can be broadly divided into the following five steps:
- Drafting of Organizational level policy of Prevention of Sexual Harassment/ PoSH Policy
- Incorporate PoSH policy in the Contracts of Employment
- Constitution of Internal Complaints Committee
- Generating awareness among the employees and other stakeholders
- Annual Report
Step 1: Drafting of Organizational level policy of Prevention of Sexual Harassment/ PoSH Policy
The first step in the process of PoSH Compliance begins with drafting of a detailed organisational level policy giving out details related to the processes and steps the organisation would take in the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (Act) and to make the policy gender neutral and not totally tilted towards women only.
Following are the points that an ideal PoSH policy should contain:
- The policy must clearly spell the objectives and purpose that it wishes to achieve for the organisation.
- The policy should explain which entities shall be covered by this policy and the place where the policy will be applied. For example based on the organisational structure, the policy must mention that it applies to employees, consultants, vendors, interns etc. and at places such as offices premises, office transport, team outing, conferences etc. Though the Act only aims to provide protection to female employees, but the organisations must always aim for drafting a gender neutral policy.
- The scope of sexual harassment must be made clear to all the employees in unambiguous terms so that it does not create lack of clarity later.
- The policy must explain the responsibilities of all the stakeholders made part of the PoSH policy. For example the responsibilities of an aggrieved person, offending person, supervisor, witness etc. This thing should be listed in simple dos and don’ts so that it becomes easier to be followed.
- The policy should contain information about the constitution of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and details of the members of ICC.
- The policy should explain the manner to file a complaint.
- The policy should also contain the manner of handling the complaints.
- The manner the complaints should be received, followed by investigative process to be followed along with the timelines should be mentioned in the report.
- How the communications of findings of the investigation process will take place has to be made part of the policy.
- The policy should mention the details of the disciplinary measures, fines, penalties and also the legal consequences of the acts of sexual harassment.
- The procedure of appeals made from the decision of the ICC must also be mentioned.
- Policy should explain the compensation measures for the complaints.
The policy should clearly spell out the confidentiality about the complaint, respondent, witnesses, the details of the complaint and also the investigation.
Step 2: Incorporate PoSH policy in the Contracts of Employment
Not just the contract of employment but also the offer letter should incorporate safe working environment and the disciplinary cum legal actions that a prospective employee would face in case they violate PoSH policy of an organisation.
Step 3: Constitution of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)
Another important step in the PoSH compliance is the constitution of a ICC. ICC must be constituted within an organisation having 10 or more employees. ICC is constituted on the written instructions of employer. In case of a private limited company, a board resolution needs to be passed to constitute ICC. This ICC is responsible to handle and redressal of any complaint of sexual harassment brought before any employee of an organisation.
There are three kinds of members in an ICC. These are as follows:
- Presiding Officer: The presiding officer must be a senior level female employee. This makes the ICC more approachable for the women employees
- Employee members: The ICC should also include two or more employees of the company having decent knowledge of legal knowledge pertaining to the Act, have experience in social work or is committed to the cause of women.
- External member: the ICC should also comprise of an external member and should not be associated with the organisation in any manner. The Act has mandated to induct an external member for the simple reason to bring an unbiased opinion within the organisation. This person could either be a person who is well versed with the legal principles, an NGO or an association connected to the cause of women.
There are certain queries that many people have with respect to the ICC.
One such query is whether all the members of the ICC should be women or not. It must be kept in mind that at least half of the members and the presiding officers should be females.
Another query is about the term or tenure of an ICC member. An ICC member can hold his/her position for a maximum of three years. However, an ICC member can be disqualified or removed before the completion of his term.
Further, what are the responsibilities of an ICC? The responsibilities include the tasks of drafting a gender neutral anti-sexual harassment policy for the organisation, organising training and awareness programmes, conducting meetings, settle grievances, make sure appropriate compensation for any case of misconduct and sexual harassment.
What are the consequences if an ICC is not formed? Non-constitution of an ICC may lead to a penalty of upto Rupees 50,000. In cases of repeated defaults, penalty can be doubled and in worst cases, cancellation or non-renewal of business license.
The biggest challenge before an organisation is the enablement of ICC members and to equip them to effectively handle complaints related to sexual harassment. There is an instance where the employee who is charged of sexual harassment committed suicide. After investigations, it was found that ICC was ill equipped and poorly trained. This reflects the urgent need to train the ICC members otherwise a poorly trained ICC can do more harm than good.
Step 4: Generating awareness among the employees and other stakeholders
The act mandates that every organisation must take all the necessary steps to create awareness among its employees about the prevention of sexual harassment and the provisions of the Act.
Many organisations find it challenging to train its employees to make their employees aware of the acts which amount to acts of sexual harassment or what acts come within the ambit of inappropriate behaviour. There is a very thin line to differentiate between an act being appropriate and one which can be considered to be sexual harassment. Further, the preconceived notions and attitudes, perspectives and level of sensitivity among the employees about the acts of sexual harassment has the potential to make the matter even more convoluted. Therefore, the employees need to undergo awareness programmes conducted by expert trainers which can delineate in simple terms acceptability of certain behaviour and sensitize them about its effects.
Following are certain ways which the organisations can use to spread awareness about prevention of sexual harassment:
- Practical trainings
- Online lessons
- Long term awareness programmes such as Sexual harassment awareness week/month.
- Posters placed on such areas where footfall of the employees higher
- Engaging digital content
There are many benefits that these programmes bring along with them such as instilling confidence in employees to raise their voice against inappropriate behaviour without any fear of being victimized because they feel that the management is sensitive to their interests and will protect them.
Criteria for selecting right PoSH training
PoSH compliance is a tedious process which involves investing resources of the organisation. This makes it important for an organisation to select the best possible training for PoSH. Following are the criteria for selecting the best possible training depending the nature and needs of your organisation.
- The training provided in the course should primarily focus on complying with the legal provisions and other mandatory compliances provided in the Act. This requires hiring the services of those professional who are well versed the requirements of the Act and also empanelled with the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India.
- Bare reading or even cramming of the provisions of the Act will not serve the purpose of sensitization. Since, the commission of an act of sexual harassment can invite penal consequences, it is necessary that the employees of the organisation are taught the course in an interactive manner where they understand the nuances in a practical manner with the help of interactive situations, case studies etc. so that employees have more than an academic understanding of the issue.
- We come across different kinds of organisations in terms of strength of employees, nature of business interaction, vertical of the industry. Since, the requirements of the different industries are different, there is a need for a tailor made sensitization programme where different needs of the organisation can be met effectively. A generic course cannot complete this task in any manner.
- An organisation has multiple stakeholders and each of them has a different role and responsibilities within an organisation and according to the Act also. Therefore, a programme must be selected which caters to the needs of different stakeholders.
Organisations can create awareness among its employees in different ways. For this they need to schedule PoSH awareness sessions either in an offline mode and online mode. The pandemic has also opened a new set possibilities for imparting training programmes through online medium. Earlier, the training which was restricted to offline mode can now be conducted through online mode also.
Now the question comes what kind of training methodology will be considered apt for your organisation. There exists no ‘one size fit all’ kind of training programme. The needs will be entirely different for a nascent startup and for a full blown factory or an organisation having office at one location and an event company who keeps on moving from one location to another. Therefore, tailor made programmes need to be designed for every organisation.
Some of the factors where online training can be considered to be a better choice are as follows:
- Cost effective training: In these kinds of training programmes, the organisations need to invest only once and it training can be taken over and over again without inducing too much off cost.
- Dispersed workplace: The organisations where the workforce is dispersed to multiple workplaces, online mode of training will be better suited to reach multiple locations at the same time. Otherwise, offline mode would have made it very costly to undertake such trainings.
- High attrition rate: organisations where there is high attrition rate would be ideal offices because the need for repeated sensitization sessions would be eliminated.
- Language Barriers: where the programmes need to be conducted in vernacular languages, online training becomes a viable option.
- Changes and Replacements in the ICC: where changes or replacements keep taking place in an organisation, online training is a viable option.
- Tracking and Reporting: Online mode helps in tracking and reporting of the employees easier for any organisation.
It must be kept in mind that sexual harassment is a sensitive topic, so many people may not be comfortable with discussing about it in open. Therefore, online mode gives them the comfort of privacy which they require to actually draw the maximum benefit from the programme.
Step 5: Annual Report Filing
Section 21 of Act makes it mandatory for the ICC to file an annual report with the District Officer. This provision states that ICC or the Local Committee needs to prepare an annual report in the prescribed format and time for every calendar year and the same needs to be submitted to the employer and the District Officer.
Section 22 of the Act mandate the employer to include the number of cases filed and their subsequent disposal in the annual report of his organisations and in cases where no such report needs to be prepared, then intimation of the number of cases needs to be made to the District Officer.
Apart from the details of the organisation such as name, address, registration number, the annual report should include the following details:
- Total number of complaints received of sexual harassment.
- Action taken and completion taken on the total number of complaints filed.
- Total number of complaints that have been under investigation for more than 90 days.
- Strength of the organisation and number of employees who have been trained on PoSH awareness.
- The action taken by the Organisation or a district officer as the case may be.
Enterslice can give you overall advisory and assistance in Conducting PoSH Compliances and filing of the necessary reports for your organisation as we are a team of highly skilled & dedicated professionals. We specialize in providing legal consultancy services.