The POSH Act, 2013.

The POSH Act, 2013.

The POSH Act meaning Prevent of Sexual Harassment, Act is a law that prevents the sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

Let’s look at sexual harassment.  

Sexual harassments are characterized as inappropriate behaviors, sexual remarks, or physical advances toward an individual. It is a gross violation of a woman’s fundamental right to equality and dignity.

The Supreme Court defined sexual harassment as any unwelcome, sexually determined physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct. Examples include sexually suggestive remarks about the demand for sexual favors and sexually offensive visuals in the workplace. 

The definition also covers situations where a woman could be maltreated at her workplace as a result of denying sexual favors relating to employment decisions that could negatively affect her working life.

 

According to the POSH Act, these behaviors are categorized as sexual harassment.

  • Demanding or requesting for sexual favors. 
  • Physical advances. 
  • Displaying pornography.
  • Making sexual remarks. 
  •  Any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
  • Promise preferential treatment in return for a sexual favor. 
  • The threat of dismissal for denying a sexual favor. 
  • Any sexual behavior or act that interferes with an employee’s work or creates an intimidating, offensive, or hostile work environment. 
  • Any humiliating treatment that relates to any behavior that has explicit or implicit sexual undertones. 
  • Any treatment that affects the health or safety of a female employee.

Today, all workplaces in India are mandated by law to provide a safe and secure working environment free from sexual harassment for all women.

The Origin of the Posh Act.

“The meaning and content of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution of India are sufficient amplitudes to encompass all facets of gender equality.” Late Chief Justice J.S. Verma, Supreme Court of India, Vishaka v. the State of Rajasthan.

In 1992, Bhanwari Devi, a rural-level change agent, was instructed by the state of Rajasthan as a Sathin to work towards preventing child marriages. 

During her work, she prevented the marriage of a one-year-old girl in the community. Her work met with resentment and attracted harassment from the men of that community. Bhanwari Devi reported this action to the local authority, but no action was taken against the men. 

Their negligence came at a cost. Bhanwari was later gang raped by those men. The Bhanwari Devi case revealed the ever-present sexual harm millions of working women are exposed to across the country, everywhere and every day irrespective of their location. It also shows the extent to which that harm can escalate if nothing is done to check sexually offensive behavior in the workplace. 

Based on the facts of Bhanwari Devi’s case, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by Vishaka and other women groups against the State of Rajasthan and the Union of India before the Supreme Court of India. It proposed that sexual harassment should be recognized as a violation of women`s fundamental right to equality and that all workplaces, establishments, or institutions be made accountable and responsible for upholding these rights.

During the judgment, Vishaka vs. the State of Rajasthan (1997), the Supreme Court of India created legally binding guidelines based on the right to equality and dignity according to the Indian Constitution as well as by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It includes: 

  • A definition of sexual harassment.
  • Shifting accountability from individuals to institutions.
  • Prioritizing prevention.
  • Provision of an innovative redress mechanism.

In 2013, the Government of India notified the Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace. Three key obligations were imposed on institutions to meet that standard, namely;

  • Prevention.
  • Prohibition.
  • Redressal.

Examples of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.

  1. Making physical contact without permission. 
  2. Caressing, kissing, or fondling someone against will could be considered assault. 
  3. Invasion of personal space by getting too close for no reason, brushing against or cornering someone. 
  4. Persistently asking someone out despite being turned down. 
  5. Stalking an individual. 
  6. Abuse of authority or power to threaten a person’s job or undermine her performance for sexual favors. 
  7. Falsely accusing and undermining a person behind closed doors for sexual favors. 
  8. Destroying a person’s reputation by rumor-mongering about her private life.
  9. Making sexually suggestive remarks or innuendos. 
  10. Making serious or repeated offensive remarks, such as teasing a person’s body or appearance. 
  11. Offensive sexual comments or jokes. 
  12. Asking inappropriate questions, suggestions, or remarks about a person’s sex life. 
  13. Posting sexist or other offensive pictures, posters, MMS, SMS, WhatsApp, or e-mails. 
  14. Intimidation, threats, and blackmail around sexual favors. 
  15. Making threats, intimidation, or retaliation against an employee who speaks up about unwelcome behavior with sexual overtones. 
  16. Unwelcome social invites with sexual overtones. 
  17. Unwelcome sexual advances may or may not be promises or threats, explicit or implicit. 

Related: What is Workplace Culture?

The Duties of Employer according to POSH Act.

There are several duties of employers according to the POSH Act. These include;

  1. Employers are expected to provide a safe working environment for all employees.
  2. The use of posters or cardboard to display the panel consequences of sexual harassment should be displayed in offices.
  3. Employers are to draft an organizational policy against sexual harassment of women in the workplace.
  4. Formulate an Internal Committee if the organization has ten or more employees regardless of if the organization is virtual or physical.
  5. Organizations should organize awareness programs for employees about the provisions of the POSH Act(Prevention of Sexual Harassment).
  6. Internal Committee (IC) members must be established in all organizations.
  7. Internal Committee (IC) members must be trained on their roles and responsibilities in dealing with sexual harassment complaints.
  8. The organization should treat sexual harassment as misconduct under the service rules and take appropriate action to address such misconduct. 
  9. It is also important that the IC submits the Annual Report to the management and the District Officer, but this applies only to organizations that have ten or more employees.
  10. The organization should provide the necessary facilities and produce any necessary information to the Internal Committee or Local Committee for inquiry to ensure that complaints of sexual harassment are handled effectively.

Complaint Authorities Under the POSH Act.

The Act provides for the complaint authorities to help them enforce the Act. These authorities are;

1. Internal Complaint Committee (ICC).

Every organization is expected to establish an Internal Complaint Committee through a written order. The committee should involve these members.

NO MEMBERS ELIGIBILITY
1. Chairperson A woman working in a senior-level position as an employee of the organization.
2. 2 members

(minimum)

From amongst employees committed to the cause of women/ having legal knowledge/experience in social work
3. External member From an NGO or association committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issue of Sexual Harassment

2. Local Complaint Committee (LCC).

The Local Complaint Committee (LCC) is a body formulated according to Section 6 of the POSH Act which states that the District Officer must form the Local Complaints Committee for the respective district.

The role of the district officer is to enable women in the unorganized sector or small establishments to work in an environment free of sexual harassment. The Local Complaint Committee (LCC) should involve these members.

NO MEMBERS ELIGIBILITY
1. Chairperson Nominated among women in the field of social work and committed to the cause of women.
2. Members Nominated from women working in the block, taluka, tehsil, ward, or municipality in the district.
3. 2 members Should be nominated from NGOs, associations, or persons committed to the cause of women or familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment, provided that 

  • At least one must be a woman.
  • At least one must have a background in law or legal knowledge
4. Ex-official member The concerned officer dealing with social welfare or women and child development in the district.

3. External Complaint Committee.

The External Complaint Committee are external members and must be a person who is familiar with the issues relating to women and sexual harassment. 

4. She-Box.

She-Box is an online Complaint Management System for lodging complaints related to workplace sexual harassment. Any woman working or visiting any office of the Central Government (Central Ministries, Departments, Public Sector Undertakings, Autonomous Bodies, Institutions, etc.) can file a complaint related to workplace sexual harassment through She-Box.

Implementing the POSH Act in organizations is the most effective way to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. This act mandates strict guidelines and procedures that organizations must follow to prevent and address any instance of sexual harassment in the workplace.

By enforcing this act, organizations can create a safe and more respectful work environment for all employees, regardless of their gender.

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