Essential POSH Act for Businesses at an early stage

As an early stage business, fostering a positive and compliant workplace culture is integral to long-term success. Understanding and implementing Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) compliances is not only a legal necessity but a crucial step in creating a safe and inclusive work environment. In this blog, we’ll delve into the essential POSH compliances that every early stage business should be well-acquainted with, laying the foundation for a workplace where everyone feels respected and protected.

The implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act and Rules in 2013, commonly known as the POSH Act, represents a crucial milestone in India’s commitment to combat workplace sexual harassment. This legislative framework replaced the Vishakha Guidelines, initially established by the Supreme Court of India in 1997 to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace.

The POSH Act imposes a comprehensive set of corporate governance obligations on all employers, aiming to prevent, prohibit, and address sexual harassment within the workplace. It’s important to emphasize that the primary objective of the POSH Act extends beyond safeguarding women employees; it encompasses the protection of all women present in the workplace. This inclusive approach covers employees, clients, visitors, vendors, interns, trainees, or probationers. Every woman in the workplace, regardless of her role, is entitled to a secure working environment. Consequently, measures ensuring POSH compliance must be implemented, emphasizing the importance of these safeguards even in organizations without current female employees.

What are the essential steps towards POSH Compliance?

Here is a list of essential steps towards POSH Act Compliance:

1. Creating a POSH Policy and Treating Sexual Harassment as Misconduct

corporate governance

Embarking on the path of POSH Compliance requires the development of an organizational POSH Policy. Every organization should formulate and communicate a corporate governance policy that explicitly condemns sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers need to ensure that this policy clearly delineates acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, providing a precise definition of sexual harassment.

The policy may include elements such as defining sexual harassment, outlining the responsibilities of all employees in preventing such incidents, detailing the complaint mechanism, and specifying penalties for sexual harassment. It explicitly declares that the organization views sexual harassment as a misconduct under its service rules.

Designed for all employees, the policy should be crafted in clear and straightforward language, easily comprehensible even by individuals without an extensive command of the language or legal background. Employers should proactively ensure that all employees are aware of the existence of this corporate governance policy within the organization. Additionally, the policy should be stored in an easily accessible location for the convenience of all stakeholders.

2. Establishing the Internal Committee (IC) 

 Establishing the Internal Committee (IC) is a crucial step in alignment with the POSH Act, serving as the designated team responsible for receiving and addressing sexual harassment complaints. This committee, mandated by the POSH Act for organizations with ten or more employees, is structured with the following components:

A. Presiding Officer:

A senior female employee is appointed as the Presiding Officer, leading the Internal Committee.

B. Internal Members:

Two Internal Members are included in the committee, ideally individuals committed to the cause of women, possessing experience in social work, or having legal knowledge.

C. External Member:

The committee includes an External Member affiliated with an NGO or an association devoted to women’s causes, or possessing familiarity with issues related to sexual harassment. Crucially, the External Member should maintain no other connection with the organization, ensuring an unbiased third-party presence in the Internal Committee.

The primary responsibility of the Internal Committee is to receive sexual harassment complaints from women in the workplace and resolve them within the stipulated 90 days, as mandated by the POSH Act.

Adhering to the POSH Act is imperative for organizations when forming the Internal Committee, as a flawed constitution may be subject to legal scrutiny.

Illustrating this, the case of Female Commercial Assistant vs M/S. Air France India and Anr (30 May, 2018) serves as an instance where the court nullified an Inquiry Report prepared by an improperly constituted Internal Committee. In this particular case, the External Member lacked the requisite qualifications. Consequently, the court invalidated the inquiry report, instructing the organization to reconstitute the Internal Committee and conduct a fresh inquiry.

3. Conducting Awareness Sessions for Employees 

Conducting Awareness Sessions for Employees and the Internal Committee stands as a crucial measure recommended by the POSH Act to augment awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace. This involves regularly organizing sensitization and training sessions for employees, aiming to acquaint them with the key provisions of the policy such as corporate governance, the definition of sexual harassment, the complaint and redressal mechanism (i.e., the Internal Committee), and their roles in preventing harassment.

To ensure the effectiveness of POSH training in reducing workplace harassment, it is imperative to ensure its legal accuracy to prevent potential legal consequences. For your organization’s POSH training needs, explore our interactive and engaging online POSH training for employees, available in English and seven regional languages.

The POSH Act endows the Internal Committee with authority akin to that of a Civil Court during the inquiry into a sexual harassment case. As the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibilities.” The substantial authority granted to the Internal Committee must be exercised judiciously to ensure justice for all. To facilitate the accurate use of its powers and responsibilities, the employer should provide comprehensive training. This training should equip the Internal Committee to conduct inquiries effectively while staying in compliance with the POSH Act. A once-a-year POSH training may prove insufficient for the Internal Committee, necessitating a blended learning approach that incorporates discussions and interactions to undoubtedly enhance its capabilities.

4. Ensuring Inquiry Completion

1. Supporting the Internal Committee:

internal committee

As dictated by the POSH Act, the employer is obligated to offer comprehensive assistance to the Internal Committee, guaranteeing the effective completion of corporate governance. This includes, but is not limited to:

 – Facilitating the attendance of the complainant, respondent, and witnesses for each session of the inquiry.

 – Providing any requested information available to the Internal Committee.

Upon concluding the inquiry, the Internal Committee is mandated to submit its findings and recommendations (actions against the guilty) in the form of an Inquiry Report to the employer. Subsequently, the employer must ensure that the management takes the necessary actions as per the recommendations of the Internal Committee.

2. Assisting the Local Committee:

In scenarios where an organization lacks ten or more employees, necessitating the formation of an Internal Committee, a Local Committee (LC) is established in every district to address sexual harassment complaints. The LC deals with complaints from women employees:

 – Employed in organizations with fewer than ten employees.

 – Filing a complaint against the employer.

 – Working in an unorganized sector, such as domestic help.

Analogous to the preceding point, the employer is obliged to extend full support to the Local Committee, streamlining the inquiry process and ultimately taking action in line with their recommendations.

5. Supporting the complainant in filing a police complaint

In instances where a woman has faced sexual harassment from an employee within the organization, she possesses the right to file a complaint with both the Internal Committee and the police simultaneously. Notably, if the harasser is a third party, the Internal Committee lacks jurisdiction to investigate the complaint or recommend actions. In these situations, it is incumbent upon the employer to provide support to the affected party in the process of filing a complaint with the police.

6. The government ensures an organization’s commitment to POSH 

The government ensures an organization’s commitment to POSH compliance by requiring the submission of an Annual Report. Companies must submit this report to the District Officer every calendar year. Section 21 of the POSH Act outlines:

“The Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, shall, in each calendar year, prepare an annual report in such form and at such time as may be prescribed and submit the same to the employer and the District Officer.”

This annual reporting mechanism serves as a transparent means for organizations to showcase their efforts in upholding a safe and harassment-free workplace, aligning with the regulations outlined in the POSH Act.

In case you are wondering, hey! We are still at an early stage and we take internal measures to avoid POSH-like circumstances so we don’t need it, here are the costs you are bearing:

Encouraging Compliance with POSH Act: Penalties Disclosed

Emphasizing the importance of compliance, the POSH Act prescribes penalties to deter violations:

compliance at workplace

In instances where an employer fails to comply with any provision of the POSH Act, they may face a fine of up to 50,000 rupees. For repeated offenses, the penalty for the second violation could be twice the amount of the initial fine, or authorities may contemplate revoking the employer’s license, permit, or registration for conducting business or activities.

It’s essential to recognize that the court retains the authority to order the employer to pay additional compensation to the aggrieved party, supplementing the aforementioned penalties. This comprehensive approach underscores the significance of adherence to the POSH Act’s provisions, fostering a workplace environment that strictly follows corporate governance and is devoid of harassment.

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