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What Is POSH, the Law against Sexual Harassment in India?

calendar25 May, 2023
timeReading Time: 7 Minutes
What Is POSH, the Law against Sexual Harassment in India?

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, was enacted to stop the sexual persecution of women in the workplace and provide a mechanism for redressing complaints related to sexual harassment. The Act has been enforced since December 9, 2013. The Act makes it mandatory for all organizations, private or public, to have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at each workplace or district level that a woman may make a complaint against an act of sexual harassment.

POSH, the Law against Sexual Harassment in India

The law defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with the woman’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment for her. The definition of sexual harassment includes any gender-based harassment that may affect the dignity of women in the workplace.

POSH applies to all workplaces across India, including factories, shops, offices, and any place an employee visits during her employment. The law also covers working women hired on a temporary, permanent, or contractual basis and interns, volunteers, and apprentices.

The law mandates appointing an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at every workplace with ten or more employees. The ICC is responsible for receiving complaints on sexual harassment, addressing complaints, initiating inquiries, and recommending action to the employer.

The law also requires employers to undertake awareness programs and mandatory training for all employees on matters related to sexual harassment. Employers are also liable for any act of sexual harassment committed by their employees, and non-success to comply with the law can result in penal action against the employer.

POSH provides a safe environment for women employees to work in and helps create a work culture free from harassment. The law has taken significant steps toward gender equality and is a milestone in the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace.

However, implementing the law in India is still a significant challenge. Many organizations fail to comply with the provisions of the law, and women are hesitant to come forward and file complaints due to fear of retaliation.

The law also limits its scope to only women and needs to broaden its scope to include all genders. Moreover, there is a need to ensure that the ICC handling complaints is diverse and has adequate representation from different sections of society.

The History and Growth of Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) of Women at Workplace Act, 2013

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, was enacted by the Indian Parliament in April 2013 in response to increasing reports of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Act aimed to provide a legal framework for preventing sexual harassment of women in all public and private workplaces and to ensure that women could work in an environment free from sexual harassment and abuse.

The Act resulted from several years of advocacy by women’s groups, NGOs, and human rights organizations demanding stronger legal protections against sexual harassment in the workplace. These groups argued that existing laws did not provide adequate protection against sexual harassment and that women often faced harassment and discrimination in the workplace without recourse.

The Act defined sexual harassment broadly to include physical acts and verbal or non-verbal conduct that is sexual and creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment for women. The Act also introduced mandatory training for employees to raise awareness about sexual harassment at the workplace and established an internal complaints committee (ICC) to investigate complaints of sexual harassment.

The Act also mandates that an aggrieved woman may make a complaint to the ICC within three months of the incident, and the ICC must complete its inquiry within 90 days. It further prescribes that employers found guilty of not obeying the legal provisions of the Act will be penalized with a fine of up to Rs.50,000.

Since its enactment, the Act has faced several challenges in implementation, with many employers failing to establish ICCs and training their employees on issues related to sexual harassment. Nevertheless, the Act has been a significant step forward in protecting women’s rights in the workplace. Many women have come forward to report incidents of sexual harassment and seek redress under the Act. The government has also taken steps to enforce compliance with the Act. There have been several high-profile cases where employers have been penalized or prosecuted for failing to comply with its provisions.

The Important Provisions of the Act

  • Definition of Sexual Harassment

The Act defines sexual harassment as uninvited sexually set-on behaviour such as physical contact and advances, demanding or requesting sexual favours, making sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, or other similar conduct.

  • Employer’s Responsibility

The Act stipulates that employers must take measures to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, establish and implement a policy against sexual harassment, and form an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to address complaints of sexual harassment.

  • Internal Complaints Committee

The Act requires organizations employing ten or more employees to constitute an ICC in every office or branch. The ICC is responsible for receiving and addressing complaints of sexual harassment, conducting an inquiry, and recommending action against the offender.

  • Complaint Mechanism

The Act provides for a complaint mechanism for victims of sexual harassment. The victim can report the incident of sexual harassment to the ICC, Local Committee, or District Officer. The Act ensures the confidentiality of proceedings and guilty persons are punished.

  • Punishment and Compensation

The guilty person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than three years or with a fine or with both. The Act also gives compensation to the victim, which can be monetary or non-monetary.

  • Mandatory Training

The Act mandates that employers conduct regular awareness programs and training sessions for employees to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Third-party Harassment

The Act also prohibits third-party harassment, which is harassment by someone who is not an employee of the organization, such as a customer, supplier, or contractor.

  • Time Limit

The Act requires that the inquiry into the complaint of Sexual harassment be concluded within 90 days from the date of receipt of the statement of complaint.

Advantages of the Act

  Advantages     Explanation
    Prevention of sexual harassment     The Act aims to prevent sexual harassment of women in the workplace.  
    Promotes a safe and healthy work environment     It promotes a secure and healthy work environment for women by prohibiting harassment.  
    Legal protection     The Act provides legal protection to women against sexual harassment in the workplace.  
    Redressal mechanism       The Act provides for redressal procedures for complaints of sexual harassment and ensures effective investigation and resolution of complaints.  
    Mandatory requirement     The Act has made it mandatory for private and public organizations to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to investigate sexual harassment complaints.  
    Awareness       The Act has generated awareness of sexual harassment and sensitized the public on the issue of women’s rights in the workplace.  

Limitations of the Act

Limitations   Explanation
    Awareness of the Act     Not all employees know the Act’s provisions, and some may not know they have a right to file a complaint.  
    Lack of adequate training       There is a need for more trained personnel to run and manage ICCs, which can result in delays in resolving complaints.
    Complaints     Some women may hesitate to file a complaint of harassment due to fear of retaliation or victimization.  
    Limited coverage       The Act only covers sexual harassment in the workplace. It does not address harassment outside the workplace or other forms of harassment and discrimination.  
    No punishment for false complaints       The Act does not have provisions to punish those who file false complaints. False allegations can harm the reputation and career prospects of the accused.  
    No provision for men     The Act only addresses sexual harassment against women and does not have provisions for men who may experience harassment or discrimination.  

Case Laws in India Relating to the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013

POSH stands for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013[1]. It is a comprehensive law that aims to provide a safe environment for women employees and prevent sexual harassment against them.

The Act came into force, there have been several cases where it has been invoked, some of which are:

  • Vishakha and others vs State of Rajasthan and others

The landmark case of Vishakha and others vs the State of Rajasthan and others paved the way for the enactment of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) of Women at Workplace Act, 2013. In the case, the Supreme Court decided that sexual harassment of women violates the fundamental right to life and liberty and is a form of gender-based discrimination. The Court further laid down guidelines to be followed by all employers until suitable legislation on the subject is enacted. These guidelines are now enshrined in the Act.

  • The Tata Memorial Center vs. Smt. Renuka Singha

In this case, the complainant, an employee of the Tata Memorial Center, alleged that her employer had directed her to attend a dinner with a senior staff member, where she was subjected to inappropriate and sexually explicit advances. The ICC constituted at the Tata Memorial Center found the accused employee guilty of sexual harassment and ordered his transfer to a different department. The accused appealed to the High Court, which upheld the decision of the ICC.

  • Nuziveedu Seeds Limited vs Punjab National Bank Officers Association

In this case, a woman employee of Nuziveedu Seeds Limited filed a complaint of sexual harassment against one of her colleagues. The ICC constituted at the workplace found the accused employee guilty of sexual harassment and ordered his termination. The accused employee approached the High Court, which upheld the decision of the ICC.

  • Allied Motions India Pvt. Ltd. vs State of Kerala and others

In this case, the complainant, an Allied Motions India Pvt. Ltd. employee, alleged that she was subjected to sexual harassment by her supervisor. She filed a complaint with the ICC constituted at the workplace. The ICC found the accused guilty of sexual harassment and ordered his transfer to a different department. The accused appealed to the High Court, which upheld the decision of the ICC.

  • Anand Kumar Bajaj vs. Smt. Shilpa Kukreja

In this case, the accused was a company director and was alleged to have made sexually explicit remarks to the complainant, an employee. The ICC constituted at the workplace found the accused guilty of sexual harassment and ordered his removal from the post of director. The accused appealed to the High Court, which upheld the decision of the ICC.

Thus, the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, is an important legislation that aims to provide a safe and harassment-free workplace for women. The Act has been invoked in several cases since it came into force, and the courts have been proactive in upholding the provisions of the Act. All employers need to comply with the Act’s provisions to ensure their employee’s safety and well-being.

Conclusion

In conclusion, POSH is an essential law that seeks to protect women employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. It requires proactive measures from employers to create a work environment that is free from harassment and acts as a deterrent to sexual harassers. The law also prohibits retaliation against complainants and mandates strict action against the guilty. However, its implementation needs to be strengthened for it to be more effective, and it needs to broaden its scope to include all genders.

Read Our Article: Preventing And Responding To Sexual Harassment

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