In today’s Topic, I am going to write down about very serious topic for working women. It’s an attempt that makes our professionals much more aware of the safety of women at the workplace to give them safe working environment, I.e. to protect them from being harassed at the workplace.
I am forced to Pen Down this write up because recently I came to know that one of my fellows faced some mental harassment just because she could not take action on the incident that happened with her, So for you, all who are engaged in any business entity may take benefit of it and also let others to get benefitted.
This Incident happened just after the resume of business activity, post lockdown and work from home she joined office almost after 2 months and she asked for more leaves since she has small child at home whom she can’t send to crèche as per the adverse scenario then and also due to workload at her place, she couldn’t give her 100% at work. In the organization where she was working for more than 2 years, the employer on her request replied that “instead of working from home you have done so much enjoyment, just look how much fatty you become” and you are asking for much more leaves.
For some people, this conversation might be very normal but for her, it was torture at front of office staff but she couldn’t take action as there was no internal complaint committee to report about this, Even though there, Director’s Report had a clause regarding the same hopefully no other women would face such kind of mental harassment here we start discussing about the POSH Act.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act and the Rules (collectively known as POSH Laws) have been enacted and passed by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, in the year 2013. These laws are applicable to every workplace, establishment, company, and organization, inclusive of MNCs, firms, shops, restaurants, etc.
START WITH THE APPLICABILITY OF THE POSH ACT.
The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) at workplace Act is applicable to every workplace, establishment, company, or organization employing 10 or more employees (full time, part-time, interns, or consultants included) irrespective of its location or nature of the industry.
This is a pro tip for the professionals, especially Company Secretary/HR if in your Organization the number of employees is more than 10 then implement the same today if not yet applied.
Non-compliance with POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) can cost an employer a monetary penalty of INR 50,000. On repeated non-compliance, the employer may be penalized with twice the punishment. Non-compliance can also lead to cancellation of license, withdrawal or non-renewal of registration for carrying on business, by the Government or local authority.
It has been made mandatory to include a statement in the Director’s report that the company has complied with provisions relating to the constitution of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) under POSH laws. The Companies (Accounts) Rules, 2014 have been amended to mandate the disclosure regarding the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (POSH laws) in the Director’s report of every company.
What are the Compliances Under POSH Act?
- Committee: Each organization with more than 10 employees is required to form an Internal Complaints Committee headed by a “Female Presiding Officer”,
- Policy: Formulation of an internal POSH policy for the prevention and redressal of sexual harassment at workplaces.
- Workshops: Orientation and training programmes are also required to be carried out by the organization for awareness of this act. The notices need to be displayed in visible locations of the office so that they are accessible and visible to everyone i.e. employees, visitors, interns etc.
- Annual Report: The organizations are also required to file an annual report with the information of the number of sexual harassment complaints received in a year, the number of complaints disposed of in a year, cases pending for more than 90 days, etc.
Reporting under Directors Report:
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs, through a notification dated July 31, 2018, amended the Companies (Accounts) Rules 2014, in accordance with the request made by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare.
By this amendment, it is now mandatory to disclose that the company has implemented the provisions of the Sexual Harassment Act.
It is now compulsory for a company to make a statement in the Director’s Report that it has complied with the provisions regarding the constitution of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).
This amendment comes as a major step towards making the workplaces in the private sector safer for women, thereby casting higher responsibility on the Board of Directors to ensure compliance under the POSH Laws. Penal provisions that ensue in case of non-disclosure under Section 134 of the Companies Act will now be levied in the matters of non-disclosure of the implementation of the Sexual Harassment Act as well.
INTERNAL CONTROL COMMITTEE:
Every employer is obliged to constitute an ICC through a written order. The ICC will be composed of the following members:
|1.||Chairperson||Women working at senior level as employee; if not available then nominated from other office/units/ department/ workplace of the same employer|
|2.||2 Members (minimum)||From amongst employees committed to the cause of women/ having legal knowledge/experience in social work|
|3.||External Member||From amongst NGO/associations committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issue of Sexual Harassment|
SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE POLICY
Employers/District Officers are responsible for complying with prohibition, prevention, and redress of workplace sexual harassment. In practice, this means having a policy that:
(1) Prohibits unwelcome behavior that constitutes workplace sexual harassment;
(2) Champions prevention of workplace sexual harassment through orientation, awareness, and sensitization sessions; and
(3) Provides a detailed framework for redress.
DISSEMINATION OF INFORMATION AND AWARENESS GENERATION
Employers/ District Officers have a legal responsibility to:
- Effectively communicate a policy that prohibits unwelcome behaviour that constitutes workplace sexual harassment, and provides a detailed framework for prevention, and redress processes.
- Carry out awareness and orientation for all employees.
- Create forums for dialogue i.e. Panchayati Raj Institutions, Gram Sabhas, Women’s Groups, Urban Local Bodies or like bodies, as appropriate.
- Ensure capacity and skill building of Complaints Committees.
- Widely publicize names and contact details of Complaints Committee members.
ANNUAL REPORT UNDER POSH ACT:
As per Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013, there are 2 reports to be submitted by the employer:
- It is the duty of the ICC to submit an annual report, which includes the number of cases filed/disposed of every calendar year to the employer and district office.
- The employer has a statutory obligation to ensure this report is included in the annual report of the organization filed to the Registrar of companies.
DISQUALIFICATIONS OF MEMBERS UNDER POSH ACT.
The POSH Act prescribes the following grounds which would disqualify a person from membership of the ICC:
- Disclosure by the person of matters which are required to be kept confidential under the POSH Act, such as information regarding the complaint submitted to an ICC, identity of the complainant, the respondent or witnesses, details of inquiry proceedings and recommendations of the ICC, or action taken by the employer.
- If the person has been convicted, or an inquiry is pending against such person, of any offence under any law.
- Similarly, if the person has been found guilty, or an inquiry is pending against such person, with regard to any disciplinary proceedings.
- Where the person has abused their position, rendering their continued membership in the ICC to be prejudicial to public interest.
On occurrence of any of the above grounds, the applicable member(s) would have to step down and be replaced with individuals possessing suitable qualifications as applicable to the relevant category of membership.
WHO IS A DISTRICT OFFICER (DO)?
State Governments will notify a District Magistrate/Additional District Magistrate/ Collector/ Deputy Collector as a District Officer at the local level. The District Officer will be responsible for carrying out the powers and functions under the Act at the district levels (including every block, taluka, tehsil, ward, and municipality).
Section 21 – Internal Committee to submit annual report:
As per the Act – “(I) The Internal Committee or the Local Committee shall in each calendar year prepare, in such form and when may be prescribed, an annual report and submit the same to the employer and the District Officer.
The District Officer will forward a brief report on the annual reports to the appropriate State Government. Such reports must include the following information:
- No. of complaints received;
- No. of complaints disposed of;
- No. of cases pending for more than 90 days;
- No. of workshops/awareness programmes carried out;
- Nature of action taken by the employer/DO;
The Report of ICC will be forwarded to the DO through the employer.
Section 22 – Employer to include information in the Annual report
As per the Act – “The employer shall include in its report the number of cases filed if any, and their disposal under this Act in the annual report of his organization or where no such report is required to be prepared, intimate such number of cases, if any, to the District Officer.”
The latest Director’s Report submitted under the Companies Act has a section to capture the compliance to the PoSH Act, 2013. This report is filed along with the annual returns to the Registrar of companies.
Conclusion About Sexual Harassment At Work Place:
The POSH Act prescribes that failure by an employer to constitute an ICC is an offense punishable with a fine for an amount of up to Rupees Fifty Thousand. Further, an employer convicted for the same offense at the second instance may be punishable with a fine for twice such amount, as well as be liable to cancellation or non-renewal of its business licenses, registrations, or approvals by the government or local authorities.