Do you know what your obligations are as an employer under law for creating a safer work environment
Updated: Jul 15
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“POSH Act”) was passed in 2013. However, the sad reality remains, that despite almost a decade after the passage of this legislation, workplaces in India are not safe for women. It is pertinent, that not only the employees but also the employers know their obligations under the POSH Act, in order to make their offices safe. We bring to you, through this post, the statutory obligations, of an employer, under the POSH Act. Before we set out to discuss these obligations in detail, let us have a look at what obligations are mandatory and what are good to have.
We shall now discuss in detail the mandatory obligations of an employer under the POSH Act:
Constitute An Internal Committee
The Act provides that it is the duty of all employers who employ more than ten employees, to formulate an internal committee in order to deal with issues of sexual harassment at the workplace. The Act provides for a minimum of four members for the internal committee and states that half of IC members will necessarily have to be women and that among the four members, “a presiding officer for IC will have to be appointed, and it will have to be a woman at a senior level in that office.The employer is also required to monitor the timely submission of reports by the internal complaints committee. Please note that non-compliance with setting up of an internal complaints committee will lead to imposition of monetary penalty up to INR 50,000.
Promotion of a Safe Work Environment
It is the duty of employers to ensure the existence of a safe work environment for women by widely circulating company policies or resolutions for the prohibition, prevention and redressal of sexual harassment issues. There must be promotion of a gender sensitive workplace to ensure the removal of underlying factors that would cause hostility against women.
Exhibition or Display of Consequences of Sexual Harassment
A notice displaying the consequences of the sexual harassment should be put up at prominent places within the work space along with a copy of the incorporation of the internal committee put together to resolve issues of sexual harassment.
Section 19 of the POSH Act mandates employers to organize workshops and awareness sessions at regular intervals. Further, Rule 13 of the POSH Rules lays down the manner in which such workshops need to be conducted. It requires every employer to do the following:
Formulate and distribute an anti-sexual harassment policy.
To promote gender sensitive safe spaces and remove factors which may give rise to a hostile work environment for women.
Carrying out workshops and seminars for members of the ICC.
Conduct employee awareness programmes.
Conduct capacity/skill building programmes for members of ICC
Declare the names and contact details of members of ICC
Conduct awareness and training sessions through modules developed by state governments.
Please note that the aforementioned requirements are mandated by law and every employer is compulsorily required to follow the same.
Assisting the Internal Complaints Committee/Local Committee
An employer is mandated to provide necessary facilities to the internal complaints committee and the local committee for dealing with the complaint and for conducting inquiry.It is also responsible for securing the attendance of the respondent and the witnesses.
Assisting Employees to Report Instances of Sexual Harassment.
The employer is required to provide assistance to the aggrieved woman if she chooses to file a complaint in relation to an offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) or any other law for the time being in force.
Preparation of an Annual Report/Intimation of number of cases filed to the District Officer
If the employer is required to prepare an annual report of its organization, then it shall include the number of sexual harassment cases filed, if any and their disposal, in the same. If no such report is required to be prepared, then it is required by law to intimate the number of cases to the District officer. Please note that companies, societies and trusts are typically required to prepare such an annual report, while sole proprietorships, partnership firms and LLPs do not require the same.
Treatment of Sexual Harassment as a Misconduct
The Act states that all instances of sexual harassment at the workplace are to be treated as misconduct on the end of the employee committing it. All employment agreements, service rules, policies and procedures and standing orders of the company should state in clear terms that sexual harassment will be treated as a misconduct. The consequences of such acts of sexual harassment must also be concisely and clearly laid out before employees such as the deduction of wages, termination of employment, additional penalties, etc. among other things.
While the Act clearly lays down certain duties to be carried out by employers, it can only be effective in its objective of achieving parity between men and women if it receives the full cooperation of employers in diligently fulfilling these obligations. The protection of the constitutional rights of women to a safe and equal work environment, thus, lies in the hands of employers.